Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly

 The previous year was marked by persistently high levels of grave violations against boys and girls in armed conflict, a call to urgently enhance joint advocacy and international cooperation to better protect millions of children affected by conflict, highlights the new report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly. The report presents progress and issues of concern for conflict affected children between August 2018 and July 2019, as well as recommendations to the General Assembly.

“The protection of children is a cross-cutting issue and the international community has a collective responsibility to act to end and prevent grave violations against children, which can be early indicators of conflict escalation, as per Security Council Resolution 2427 (2018). Child protection strategies are at the center of security, human rights, humanitarian and development issues, and can serve as tools for conflict resolution and peace building,” Special Representative Gamba said.

Through advocacy, awareness-raising and engageent with parties to conflict, the Special Representative and partners like UNICEF, DPO and DDPA, have consistently promoted the prevention agenda, the report shows. Preventative measures should be given the same level of attention and resources as restorative measures in efforts towards sustainable peace, the report shows. The Special Representative also stressed the importance of dedicated specialized child protection actors in UN peacekeeping and special political missions, as well as in regional and international organizations.

In her recommendations to Member States, the Special Representative emphasized the importance of protecting humanitarian space and allowing unimpeded access for humanitarian and protection actors. “Child protection actors have a leading role, whether in peace operations, political missions or other settings, and they often put their lives at risk to reach the most vulnerable; I urge all Member States to ensure that these actors can operate safely in conflict situations and I call on Member States to provide political and financial support to their crucial work,” she added.

Protracted and new crises, intensification of combat situations and new conflict dynamics continued to have a devastating impact on children, with a spike in killing and maiming in 2018. “Ensuring adequate application of international law, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and military necessity, as well as other relevant principles and commitments, is fundamental in the protection of children to curb the worrying trend,” she said.

Among the challenges facing conflict-affected children, the Special Representative highlighted the detention of children for security-related charges, including children of foreign origin. She called on Governments and concerned Member States to facilitate the reintegration and return of boys and girls in line with international law, bearing in mind the best interest of the child. She further urged Member States to treat children accused of actual or alleged association with parties to conflict primarily as victims and reiterated that detention should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

While boys and girls around the world continued to be victims of grave violations, engagement with parties to conflict, partners and supporters of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate has produced tangible progress for the protection of children, including three new Action Plans signed in 2018 in the Central African Republic (2) and Syria (1). In addition, other important preventive and protective measures have been taken by some of the parties to conflict, including a Memorandum of Understanding with the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, a roadmap to revive the implementation of the action plan signed in 2014 with the Government of Yemen as well as eight unilateral declarations by armed groups commanders in the Democratic Republic of Congo to end and prevent grave violations against children, to cite some examples.

Engagement with UN entities, international, regional and sub-regional organizations, as well as civil society, has amplified advocacy efforts for stronger child protection mechanisms at all levels. The Special Representative launched the campaign ACT to Protect Children Affected by Conflict in April 2019 to

generate more support and action to protect children affected by war. She also launched the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers, co-chaired by UNICEF, to generate innovative ways to sustainably address support for child reintegration programmes, in collaboration with partners from the UN, World Bank, civil society and Member States.

Learning from more than 20 years of action for children, the Special Representative and her Office have started compiling and analyzing lessons learned and best practices on CAAC, as encouraged and welcomed by the Security Council (S/PRST/2017/21 and SCR 2427); this initiative includes the development of a practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes in collaboration with DPPA, DPO and UNICEF.

“The 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the upcoming 20th anniversary of its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) must be seen as opportunities for Member States to renew their commitment to protect boys and girls and place the best interest of the child at the heart of their international efforts,” Special Representative Gamba said. “Engagement should be ongoing, including through the campaign ACT to Protect children affected by conflict; my office will continue to strengthen and expand partnerships with States, regional and international organizations.”