Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG-CAAC

Third Committee of the General Assembly
Discussion of the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children

8 October 2018

Mr. Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to once more address the Third Committee under the agenda item “Promotion and protection of the rights of children.” I particularly welcome the opportunity to interact with Member States together with Ms. Najat Maalla M’jid (SRSG VAC) and Ms. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka (Deputy Executive Director – Partnerships, UNICEF). The shared vision of our respective mandates is to protect children and safeguard their rights; thus allowing children to pursue their future, unleash their potential and grow in a safe and enabling environment.

Conflict situations represent the worst kind of violation of children’s rights. In today’s conflicts, tens of thousands of children are killed, maimed, conscripted, used, abused, violated, and their future put in jeopardy. These attacks on children have long-lasting negative effects on efforts to build peaceful and sustainable societies. It is our common responsibility to find durable and just solutions for all girls and boys affected by war, including by ensuring accountability and compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, and by implementing measures to end and prevent violations.

We all must uphold and safeguard the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and make sure that they yield concrete and practical results for children, particularly if we are to realise the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Responding to the needs of children affected by conflict is not limited to emergency, recovery and protection interventions. It must be fully articulated in all phases of the conflict cycle as well as in development planning, prevention efforts and in the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks.

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this 20 November, we should take stock of three decades of progress and challenges in the protection of children and promotion of their rights, including children affected by armed conflict. May 2020 will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. I encourage States to accede to the Optional Protocol and join the already 170 state parties, including the very recent signatories: Myanmar and The Gambia. All States share a responsibility to protect and promote children’s rights and put the best interest of the child at the center of their national and global engagement.

Member States, the United Nations, regional organizations, civil society and other partners should all ACT to protect children affected by armed conflict to catalyse real change in the lives of children. This is the message of the campaign I launched in April 2019 that many of you have already joined. I invite you ALL to join this global movement of actions to protect children.

I now should like to highlight challenges that children living in situations of armed conflict face, initiatives that I have taken over the past year to mitigate these and present a way forward on how we can join forces to further accelerate progress.

Mr. Chair,

As noted in my report issued on 29 July 2019 and now before this Committee (A/74/249), as well as in the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict of 20 June 2019 (A/73/907–S/2019/509), the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) verified a persistent high level of grave violations against children in 2018. Worryingly, the numbers of children killed and maimed in conflict situations have reached the highest recorded figures since the creation of the mandate. Urban and populated areas have become the battlefields of our time with significant civilian harm and long-lasting consequences on civilian infrastructures and services.

Children continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict. Boys and girls were exposed to unimaginable violence, including sexual violence, separated from their families and communities, stripped of their support networks and denied education, healthcare or life-saving assistance. Children continued to be deprived of liberty solely for their alleged or actual association with armed forces or groups, for extended periods, in harsh conditions and facing severe sentences.

More than 24,000 violations were verified in 2018 in the 20 conflict situations. While the number for other violations decreased or remained relatively steady, more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed, mostly by cross-fire incidents, active combat actions by non-state actors, state actors and multinational forces as well as by ERW, IEDs or landmines. The recruitment and use of children continued unabated with more than 7,000 children drawn into frontline fighting and support roles globally. Nevertheless, the number of children released has consistently increased in the past years to a total of about 13,600 children, as a result of direct engagement of the United Nations with parties to conflict.

Incidents of sexual violence against boys and girls remained prevalent in all situations with a total of 933 cases, but the violation continued to be underreported due to lack of access, stigma and fear of reprisals. Children continued to be abducted, often to be used in hostilities or for sexual violence. Nearly 2,500 children were verified as abducted. While verified attacks on schools and hospitals decreased globally to 1,056, this violation significantly intensified in some conflict situations. The deprivation of access to education was alarming in several situations. For example, in Mali 827 schools were closed at the end of December 2018 preventing 244,000 children from access to education. A total of 795 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, a decrease compared to 2017.

The numbers and trends generated through the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism represent only the tip of the iceberg of violations affecting children. Insecurity, lack of access, stigma and lack of trust in institutions but also lack of capacity limited the United Nations’ ability to verify all violations. The MRM identifies parties to conflict responsible for perpetrating these violations, with the aim to ensure accountability and compliance with international humanitarian law and child protection standards. This is a unique tool that fosters constructive engagement with parties to the conflict to change behaviours and end and prevent grave violations through concrete time-bound commitments. The implementation of these commitments, with the support of the United Nations on the ground, and the monitoring of progress in ending and preventing violations are crucial in generating positive change for children.

My engagement with parties to conflict and that of the United Nations teams on the ground have led to significant progress in the protection of children in specific country situations. The recent adoption of commitments by parties in the Central African Republic, Syria and Yemen means that 31 listed parties have signed action plans since the creation of the mandate, including 11 Government forces and 20 non-State armed groups. Twelve parties have fully complied with their action plan and were subsequently delisted. In the past year, engagement with parties to conflict has been bolstered by my missions to Colombia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Myanmar, South Sudan and Thailand, as well as my forthcoming mission to Somalia.

Additionally, sustained advocacy led to positive measures taken by Member States and armed groups such as the adoption of a child rights law in Afghanistan, training for military focal points in Myanmar or a workshop to develop an action plan covering all six grave violations in South Sudan. In addition, the Government of Yemen developed with the United Nations a road map to revitalize the implementation of its action plan signed in 2014. The road map was signed on 18 December 2018. Action plans have been signed with armed groups in the Central African Republic and for the first time in the Syrian Arab Republic. Implementation of action plans continued with armed groups in Nigeria and Mali, while armed groups have made commitments to end and prevent violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a number of other situations, there is positive engagement with parties, both governmental and non-State actors, for the development of new actions plans.

In this context, I would like to highlight the essential role played by child protection advisers in peacekeeping and special political missions and within United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, particularly my partners at UNICEF. Without their presence we could not monitor nor verify violations, nor engage with parties, nor protect children effectively, including through their release from armed groups and armed forces. They are the unique linchpin to deliver on the mandate. They are our and your eyes and ears on the ground. I urge Member States to support the dedicated role of child protection advisers and to preserve and fund these positions within United Nations peacekeeping and political missions, including in budget negotiations in the Fifth Committee, as well as in United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.

Mr. Chair,

As I indicated prior, the MRM is an essential tool to monitor violations and to foster change. It is at the heart of the mandate. For this reason, I have initiated, in coordination with UNICEF, the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, a series of regional workshops of United Nations Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting and UN country teams to discuss and exchange experiences, lessons learned and best practices in implementing the children and armed conflict mandate.

Preventive measure, particularly in a regional context, can significantly contribute to protect children and sustain peace. The protection of children and prevention of grave violations, and ultimately of violent conflict, go hand-in-hand. In order to adequately respond to the challenges facing children affected by armed conflict, we must support Member States and regional organisations in their initiatives to protect children and to prevent violations from occurring in the first place. This means complementing and strengthening the existing tools such as action plans, adopting additional preventative measures prior to the emergence of violations and supporting Governments and regional organizations in developing prevention plans. I therefore have started engagement with States that have requested such assistance to develop national plans for prevention.

In addition, in the context of the Secretary-General’s prevention agenda, Security Council resolution 2427 (2018) and General Assembly resolution 72/245 (2017), I have strengthened my engagement with regional and sub-regional organizations on regional strategies to bolster child protection, in particular on cross-border issues. Engagement is continuing with the African Union, the European Union, the League of Arab States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as other regional organizations.

Jointly with relevant child protection and mediation actors in the United Nations System, including the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations and UNICEF, and upon request of the Security Council, I initiated a consultative process to compile lessons learned and good practices to develop practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes. We hope that this practical guidance, once launched at beginning of next year, will be widely used by the mediation community and contribute to ensuring that child protection issues are no longer an afterthought of peace processes.

I also launched the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers to generate new ideas for ensuring sustainable support to child reintegration programmes. The Coalition, co-led by myself and UNICEF, is composed of child protection experts from the United Nations, academia and civil society organizations, as well as the World Bank and Member States. It aims at addressing needs and gaps in programming and funding, broadening reintegration to include the peacebuilding, sustaining peace, development and prevention agendas, and mapping existing funding mechanisms and modalities. Our joint aim is to ensure all children have access to crucial reintegration services, which is sadly not the case currently.

Mr. Chair,

The situation of children affected by armed conflict in 2018 and through 2019 remains untenable, yet we cannot despair. This must be a call for collective action as United Nations. We can do better to protect children if we all commit to it through comprehensive, concrete and practical commitments.

Strengthening the legal foundations that protect children in conflict situations is one such step. Universalisation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols and their operationalisation underpin all our efforts.

Political commitments initiated by Member States—such as the Paris Principles, the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles—represent additional building blocks in the child protection architecture in particular in the areas of reintegration, education and peacekeeping. I encourage all States to endorse those initiatives and put them into practice.

Our experience demonstrates that reintegration programming must take center stage to prevent further violations, prevent conflict and sustain peace. Enabling children deeply traumatized by war to recover their lives is central. It is also preventative in that it offers boys and girls an alternative to a life bound to conflict and minimize the risk of re-recruitment.

I count on you to increase your support to reintegration efforts and to ensure continued support to my Office and our partners for us to engage in a holistic approach to end and prevent violations. I believe with this broad approach we will be nearer to realising our joint vision I have outlined to you at the start of my statement.

Mr. Chair,

I would like to thank this Committee and all Member States for their steadfast support to this mandate and my Office; and for their constructive engagement to protect children.

None of this would be possible without your political and financial support. My gratitude goes to all States that have and are still supporting my Office and our partners so together we can alleviate the plight of conflict affected children. All your support adds up to our united efforts for boys and girls in conflict.

Together let us make sure the children of today do not face the ravages of war. Let us ACT to protect children affected by armed conflict.

Thank you.