Remarks by Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Ending the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers by 2025

Distinguished Panelists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank Alliance 8.7 and War Child for organizing today’s event. My Office actively supports, as a Member, the important work of Alliance 8.7, aimed at bringing together partners and ensuring we stay on track in the achievement of Target 8.7 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The recruitment and use of girls and boys in armed conflict is one of the most egregious violations of children’s rights and has been identified and condemned by the United Nations Security Council as one of the six grave violations against children in times of war.

The link between child labour and the recruitment and use of children is clear: children that become victims of recruitment and use by armed forces and groups can indeed be forced not only to engage in combat but also to work as lookouts, porters, cooks or used for sexual purposes. The link is also clearly defined in Article 3 of the ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour which recognizes the recruitment and use of children as one of the worst forms of child labour.

Both girls and boys are recruited and used by armed forces and groups. The risks and suffering both face during their association are unique to their gender. During 2019, 7,747 children were verified as having been recruited and used. The Secretary General’s annual report on children and armed conflict covering 2020 will be published in June this year. We already observed that children have continued to be recruited and used and affected by all other grave violations. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased vulnerabilities for children in war zones.

An important instrument that the international community has at its disposal for preventing and ending the recruitment and use of children is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). Achieving its universal ratification and ensuring its implementation are two crucial steps to get closer to the achievement of SDG 8.7. Another available tool are the so-called Action Plans between the United Nations and those parties who are listed as having recruited and used children in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Further, sustained advocacy efforts by my Office and partners on the ground around those tools have led to the release of almost 40,000 children since 2018, which represents a record number.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Even when separated from armed forces and groups, children continue to struggle in regaining their place in their families and communities. The physical, social and psychological effects of the horrifying experiences those children have experienced will accompany them for a lifetime. The stigma linked to their association, especially when released from armed groups designated as terrorist by the UN Security Council, adds to the complexity of this issue.

Providing appropriate reintegration programmes and care to boys and girls who have endured the worst forms of violence is fundamental to their recovery, and to help them heal and thrive. As an international community we must ensure that the needs on the ground for long-term and sustainable reintegration programmes are met with adequate resources. Support to national and local NGOs and civil society organizations that are implementing programmes on the front line should be central to our investments.

In addition, reintegration efforts must be linked to the provision of a broader protective environment for children in which parents, families, communities, local and sub-national authorities and governments all contribute to the care and protection of children. Community-led reintegration programming is the most efficient way to ensure rehabilitation and recovery of affected children, to break the cycle of violence and prevent future occurrences of child recruitment. To contribute to sustainable and comprehensive child reintegration funding and programming and to raise awareness about the importance of reintegration efforts my Office launched in 2018 together with UNICEF the Global Coalition for Reintegration. Three research papers have been published within this framework in 2020 and we will be sharing them with you via the online platform.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As 2021 marks the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, we have the opportunity to renew our commitments to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children and scale-up together the work and the investments toward the achievement of SDG Target 8.7. Separating children that have been recruited and ensuring their reintegration is fundamental to combat this scourge but preventing this violation from occurring in the first place makes this goal sustainable. Advocacy, prevention plans and incorporating language to better protect children during mediation and peace negotiations should also be a priority for all of us.

I thank you for your attention.