Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen, Fellow Young People,
I would like to begin by thanking you for this honor, My name is Aisha Zannah Mustapha, From Future Prowess Islamic Foundation, A foundation in the northeastern part of Nigeria, Borno State, The birthplace of the Boko Haram Insurgency, the militant group in northern Nigeria that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced nearly 3 million, Future Prowess Provides education and hope to the less privileged, displaced, marginalized kids and youths in Maiduguri.
I am pleased to join you today, on the 25th anniversary of the children and armed conflict mandate, and to brief you on the protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
When you think of conflict, do children ever cross your mind?
yet thousands of children are coerced to fight wars. thousands are born into conflict.
thousands are made to do the unthinkable.
The nature of conflict has changed in other ways, too.
I want you to imagine a classroom. The teacher asks the class a question on ‘what do you want to be’: I want to be …… when I grow up. normally some will say, a doctor? a lawyer? a teacher? a politician, a pilot
their faces bleak. none of the children answers. and a week after, the class is empty because of displacement, responsibilities on their young heads.
For a lot of these kids, tomorrow is not their problem, their problem starts today.
Facing betrayal from family is an instance I remember in the case of Fatima and her two brothers, who were kidnapped by their maternal grandfather and taken to the forest for five years. While their mother searched for them tirelessly till she gave up, while in the forest, Fatima was used as a human shield, and her brothers trained as child soldiers. An older boy who decided to escape took them along and brought them back to the city but these children are still haunted by what happened in the forest. They are still accepting their unpleasant past and learning to trust in the future prowess school.
For a lot of these girls, How do they cope in a society that has failed them at a young age. There are countless such stories. Some of them, like this one, and many more.
The past years have shown us a series of grave violations against children in both decades-long and new conflicts. From Nigeria to Ethiopia to Yemen, thousands of children and youths are paying the prices for tribal, intercommunal violence, and insurgency conflicts.
Every week a child is lost in Borno State, Nigeria. To violence, hunger and so many other violations away from the headlines.
My own story might be different from the others but we all have had to face the fears of living in a society that has peer resistance to girl child education and women empowerment. As a young lady who has been lucky enough to have the opportunity to get a good education and a voice. I am here to tell you that women and children are bearing the brunt of the violence. They continue to be at risk of targeted attacks. It breaks my heart every time I see it and it makes me feel guilty for being the lucky one. It makes me question what made me so special and I wake up every day to fight for them.
The insurgency has been going on for years and I innately fear that we wouldn’t be able to help the girls in my community. Every day, a sister comes back with a child, widowed, a mother, and a teenager struggling to take care of her child in a society that views her with distrust and stigma. Looking for acceptance for her child in a society that blames the innocent child for the faults of its father.
Today I am here for the nameless and the named ones and calling everyone to commit to formal action plans and take concrete measures to protect children, especially girls. World leaders must fill the wide gap in aid funding so that women and children can receive protection and meet their essential needs. These include preventing grave violations from occurring in the first place, with the use of early warning systems, releasing children from armed forces and groups, protecting children from sexual violence, and stopping attacks on hospitals and schools. Especially schools.
In a spiral of doom, that Boko haram has caused and other insurgencies around the world have caused. Attacks on Schools deny children Education and it causes lasting damage to the children and youths, and also to their communities and societies. They end up feeling disassociated from their communities and feed the grievances and frustrations that lead to extremism, creating a vicious circle of tension and violence. Education is all we have, to change our futures, it starts and ends here. Without this, our futures are gone.
I thank this Council for its systematic engagement on this issue in several resolutions over the past 25 years. In a continent worst affected by conflicts, Rwanda is a great example that the protection of children can bring parties to conflict together and build confidence and peace. However, despite these efforts, the figures for grave violations against children in conflict continue to rise. We must all do more.
We need to recognize that children’s needs and rights must be considered during all phases of conflict, from prevention efforts to mediation and recovery through sustainable, inclusive development and it should welcome the involvement and participation of children, with appropriate support. By integrating children into peace processes, we can achieve concrete results for children, and for peace that can last for decades.
I thank everyone who is involved in the protection of children and developing systematic solutions for children around the world.
And I strongly encourage actors and youths around the world to be involved in peace processes and to take concrete actions that prioritize the protection of children affected by conflict at the national, regional, and global levels.
Thank you for your time.