Lessons learned can be drawn from the adaptability shown by child protection teams in their work as they adjusted to the restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuity in the implementation of the children and armed conflict mandate, highlights a follow-up study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict.
This follow-up study complements the publication of a first study on the impact of the pandemic on violations against children in April 2021, focusing more on the immediate effects that the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions had on children affected by conflict and on the capacity to respond to grave violations. Building on the finding of the first paper and recommendations of Member States who participated in an Arria formula meeting on Children and Armed Conflict in May 2021, this follow-up study aims at drawing lessons learned on ways to sustain prevention and response through this crisis and future ones.
The study covers the year 2020 and 2021 and was produced by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG CAAC) with the generous support of the Government of Estonia and the Government of Qatar. The follow-up study covers seven (7) country situations on the CAAC agenda, with the addition of Somalia and Yemen to the group of countries covered in the first study namely Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sudan.
“Despite the dramatic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures had on children living amidst conflict, we have seen the ability of child protection teams to overcome obstacles and even turn them into advantages, which ultimately contributed to strengthening their capacity and advocacy,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba. “I commend our Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting and especially our child protection advisors on the ground for their incredible resilience, dedication, and adaptability during those difficult times who already operate on limited human and financial resources.”
Monitoring agencies indeed took several adaptive measures to continue their work such as virtual working methods, diversifying their sources of information, increasing the number of monitors, or extending the area of monitoring, which enhanced the capacity of child protection teams, allowing them to continue to do their essential work for children.
Impact on grave violations
The follow-up study further explores the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive measures on grave violations, including by removing essential socio-economic safeguards protecting children living in situations of armed conflict. The sudden halt of economic activity resulting in a drastic reduction in household income, the abrupt closure of schools, and the interruption of public services and humanitarian assistance are highlighted as among the main factors that negatively affected the protective structures for children.
The study highlights that the most reported impact seems to have been on the recruitment and use of children, for which the pandemic seems to have acted as a push and pull factor for children to be forced into armed groups. In some situations, the pandemic could also have played a significant part in the increase of killing and maiming incidents of children by explosive remnants of war (ERWs), with the scrap metal collection and sale by children becoming more common to support their families. In one focus country, this was evidenced by a sharp rise in ERW-related deaths and injuries.
An increase in gender-based violence incidents, including sexual violence, has been reported practically all around the globe since the start of the pandemic. This was likely the case for the countries on the CAAC agenda, stresses the study, even if incidents of sexual violence remain vastly underreported. In addition, the pandemic and related restrictions also impacted programmatic efforts, including reintegration, family reunification, and economic support, as well as support to victims of sexual violence.
The study also identifies some of the groups that have been most exposed and affected by grave violations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures. Displaced and refugee children, girls at risk of sexual violence as well as children detained on security grounds have been identified as among the most vulnerable to such increased risks of grave violations.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg as different groups of children experienced or will experience the consequences of the pandemic in different ways and at different times. We have yet to witness the magnitude of the aftermath of the pandemic through societies affected by conflict over time and that’s why we will continue to study and monitor the impact of the pandemic on grave violations to provide adequate support to communities and their children,” added Virginia Gamba.
The study ends with a series of recommendations including guaranteeing a minimum number of Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM)-mandated staff in each co-chairing agency; considering child rights monitors as ‘essential workers’ and allowing them to travel to meet victims, survivors, and witnesses; establishing strategic partnerships with community-based organizations that could be MRM-trained to report information on allegations to CTFMRs; and improving access to the internet and digital communication services in conflict-affected communities as partners, including civil society conducting evidence-based advocacy, also faced constraints amidst virtual working methods.
“This follow-up study also clearly demonstrates the importance of monitoring and reporting activities to verify grave violations against children and this should remain a humanitarian priority during crises. Data on grave violations in situations of armed conflict feeds into decision-making at the highest UN levels and directly informs dialogues with parties to the conflict and informs critical humanitarian responses. I call on the international community to reiterate its support to the monitoring and reporting mechanism, including by supporting it technically, politically, and financially,” the Special Representative added.
This call is particularly relevant in view of the upcoming High-Level Political Forum in July this year focusing on accelerating recovery from COVID-19 and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels. Addressing grave violations against children and armed conflict can contribute to meeting the SDGs and this follow-up study should be used to inform these discussions.
For additional information, please contact:
Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
+1-917-288-5791 (mobile) / firstname.lastname@example.org
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