Your Excellences, Government Ministers, Ambassadors, Delegates, and invited Guests. I would like to thank the Permanent mission of Brazil for the invitation to speak and to Member States for their presence and engagement on children and armed conflict. My name is Patrick. I would like to tell you a little about myself. Then I have some recommendations I would request you all to listen to.
In 2016, I was 15 when war started in Eastern Equatoria region in South Sudan. I lived with my family in a village far away from the nearest town surrounded by forest and very green in the rainy season. One day my father and I went together to plant maize in our fields. An armed group came and abducted us. They took us to their camp where they interrogated my father, trying to get him to confess to having a gun. They tortured us by making us stand in a pit filled with water up to our necks for days and beating us. My father could not confess to something he did not have, and eventually, they killed him. right in front of me.
I was then told to join the force or die. I cannot remember what I said. I only realized my answer was ‘yes’ when I found myself in the camp centre, where hundreds of other soldiers were staying. I did not eat for days and could not stop crying.
In the barracks there were over 2000 people and half were children with many carrying guns. I was shocked and speechless. From those I spoke to, some joined because they were offered money and big positions, some because of peer pressure, while others joined to get revenge after their families who had been killed. A 10-year told me he joined because his parents were mistreating him, and he could no longer bare to stay with them. Many younger children had girls they called ‘wives’ and the adults also married children of 14 or 15.
In each attack I was forced to participate in, at least five children were killed or injured. There were harmful drugs, if you were sick there was no medical care, you either survived or you died. We drank water together with the animals.
One day an attack was launched in our barracks by the government forces. There was shooting coming from every side. It was chaos. I ran. I narrowly escaped death. I kept going. I found my way to Uganda after two days walking, where I was registered as a refugee in Biddi-Biddi settlement. It took 11 months of trying to find my family. When I finally did, it was a day of joy, happiness, and tears.
In 2018 I joined a War Child programme called VoiceMore, a youth-led advocacy programme, where I undertook training and ran a project to protect orphan and separated children with other youth in my area. After VoiceMore, together with friends we set up our own organisation called Similar Ground, a community-based organization, where we are helping hundreds of children recover from their trauma and stresses too. We are also running awareness campaigns with youth. It means a lot to us to help other children recover and to help other young people play a bigger role in community.
This year I have enrolled for an degree in Human Rights, Peace, and Humanitarian Response. I wasted three years of my life trying to recover. Many children in my community are not able to recover so fast, or never recover at all.
This is just one story. But as we know there are thousands of children currently going through what I did. I have given a lot of thought during these years to what would have helped a child like me. Based on my experiences, and my work with other children, I would like to present four recommendations to you:
Firstly – Better quality reintegration that really understands the child
Children leaving armed groups need our full support to heal. They need medical care, to be reunited with their families, and have opportunities to learn. Most importantly, communities need to be supported to welcome them. Children leaving armed groups are seen as a threat and more work needs to be done to help people understand their needs and what they have been through. In addition to this, there is a big gap in opportunities for children and young people leaving armed groups. They need to learn new skills and to put them to good use.
Secondly – Greater sustainability
Each year, billions of dollars are given in humanitarian aid, projects are implemented, and then they finish. International Organisation need to collaborate better with the government, national, and local organizations so when projects are over the community and government can take over. I also request that longer-term funding is made available for projects and that local organizations and community groups, including youth, can lead. International NGOs play an important role, but they all eventually leave, whereas we know our issues well and we can make activities more sustainable.
Thirdly – More participation in decision-making of people like me: children and youth
It is great I can speak here today, and I am grateful for this opportunity, but one young person, once a year, is not enough. Young people affected by conflict need more opportunity to participate in all aspects of policy and programming that is about them. Children affected by conflict will soon grow into youth, and many young people are ready to be part of the solution. This will improve the situation in the longer term. There should be more opportunities for participation and empowerment of young people in the UN system and in designing and leading responses.
And finally – Greater accountability
There are already lots of laws to protect and support children affected by conflict, for example the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions, and the many Security Council Resolutions, which are legally binding. Most countries have agreed to these laws, but they are not respected. They are not enforced as well as they should be at country and regional levels. There should be more accountability for the promises or commitments made. There should be more effort to ensure that militaries, armed groups, local government departments, and anyone who meets a child in a conflict zone know and understand these laws, while those who break them need to be held to account.
Last week in I sat with my friends and colleagues in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement and I asked them what is the most important thing that I must say to the here at the UN Security Council. They all agree that the meaningful participation of children and youth in policy and programming; if it is meant for children and young people, then let it be for them.
I would like to finish by thanking my friends and collaborators at Similar Ground, to War Child, and other people and organizations that have helped me on my journey. And thank you members of the UN Security Council for what you will do to protect children in conflict.