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Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the Third Committee of the General Assembly
Discussion of the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children Item 71 (a)
It is a special honour to address the Third Committee as we mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the children and armed conflict mandate by the General Assembly. I welcome this opportunity to interact with Member States together with Ms. Najat Maalla M’jid and Mr. Omar Abdi. I would like to draw delegates’ attention to my report to the General Assembly (A/76/231) that is before you.
Conflict, disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic continued to have a detrimental impact on children’s rights. The pandemic, with the closure of schools and of child-friendly spaces and the loss of family income, aggravated an already vulnerable protection environment for children in conflict situations exposing them to grave violations such as recruitment and use, sexual violence, or abduction.
In 2020, grave violations against children remained alarmingly high with the recruitment and use, the killing and maiming of children, and the denial of humanitarian access amongst the highest verified violations. I am particularly concerned about the scale of grave violations documented and reported: over 26,400 violations affecting more than 19,300 children were verified in 21 situations or 72 violations per day. Deeply concerning trends emerged, such as dramatic increases in abductions and sexual violence. Attacks on hospitals and on schools, as well as their use for military purposes, continued to be verified in high numbers disproportionally affecting girls’ education, such as in the Lake Chad Basin region.
In 2020, over 8,400 children were killed or maimed, with Afghanistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, and Somalia remaining the deadliest conflicts for children. Escalation of conflict, armed clashes, disregard for international norms and the use of landmines or improvised explosive devices had a deadly impact on children. I urge all parties to do their utmost and put in place measures to minimize harm to boys and girls. I call on Member States to sign and fully implement international instruments on those weapons and promote mine clearance and mine-risk education.
Despite this challenging and volatile environment, we also saw some important achievements for children. Engagement, by myself and partners, led in 2020 to the release of 12,300 children and to the adoption of two new action plans in Myanmar and South Sudan among at least 35 new commitments by parties to conflict to end and prevent grave violations against boys and girls. In 2021, in Mali, the Platform, a coalition of armed movements, signed action plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children and other grave violations. Additionally, in the Philippines, the armed forces signed a Strategic Plan to prevent violations against children.
As highlighted in the study Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict recently published by my Office, the United Nations was able to adapt its working methods, and the monitoring and verification of grave violations against children continued in accordance with verification standards. To better capture the impact of the pandemic, my Office will undertake a follow-up study in 2022, as requested by Member States.
In line with its mandate, my Office has continued promoting lessons learned and best practices and is working on studies on the impact of grave violations on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and on the gender dimension of the impact of armed conflict on children.
I have also been working extensively with UNICEF, the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) including as part of the Monitoring and Reporting Technical Reference Group to develop guidance for monitors. In the coming days we will publish the report from the regional workshops co-organized with UNICEF, in coordination with DPO and DPPA, to exchange experiences, lessons learned and best practices on the monitoring and reporting mechanism.
I would like to sincerely thank all child protection actors present on the ground that play an essential role in the protection of children.
Raising awareness and strengthening global alliances for children is another cornerstone of my mandate, including through working with regional and subregional organisations, such as the African Union, the European Union, the League of Arab States and NATO. I also increased my work with civil society organisations and academia, as well as with a broad range of partners within the United Nations system.
For instance, in 2020, my Office joined the Alliance 8.7, led by the International Labour Organization (ILO). In this International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, I reiterate my call on States that have not done so to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) and implement ILO Convention No. 182 as preventive measures against child recruitment and use as one of the worst forms of child labour.
In the framework of the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers, that I launched in 2018 with UNICEF, three research papers were officially released in July 2021 at an event with 90 Member States in attendance. The next step will be to establish an academic advisory group to bring together global academics to identify and research issues to further improve our work on child reintegration.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the children and armed conflict mandate in 2021, I launched a study to analyse the progression of the mandate and of its implementation since 1996. The study will analyse the evolution of armed conflicts and emerging areas of concern and will include recommendations on how to address those challenges.
As mentioned in the report before you, I would like to conclude by stressing the importance of investing in data disaggregation and improving data analysis to better inform advocacy and engagement efforts and prevent grave violations from occurring. I call on Member States to ensure that child protection priorities are translated into the budgeting and staffing resources.
Graça Machel said 25 years ago, “[t]he impact of armed conflict on children is everyone’s responsibility and must be everyone’s concern”. I thus count on your sustained commitment to our common goal to protect children from the scourge of war. The future of conflict-affected children depends on the actions we take today.