The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba, completed a two-day visit to Ethiopia to enhance the protection of children in the context of the Agreement for Lasting Peace through a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities. SRSG Gamba stressed that the opportunity provided by the cessation of hostilities should be used to support those affected by conflict throughout the country, including the socio-economic rehabilitation and reintegration of affected children.

During her visit, Virginia Gamba engaged with the Government of Ethiopia in meetings in Addis Ababa, including with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Education, and the State Ministers for Defence, Justice, and Women and Social Affairs, as well the National Reconciliation Commission, the Police Commissioner, and the Director-General for Foreign Affairs, to discuss measures to further enhance the protection of conflict-affected children.

She discussed with relevant stakeholders how the United Nations can best support Ethiopia’s ongoing efforts to minimize the impact of the conflict on children and strengthen child- and gender-sensitive, long-term reintegration programmes for children formerly associated with parties to conflict. These include the release and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict, trainings on how to identify and prevent the six grave violations, the provision of comprehensive assistance to child survivors of grave violations, including of sexual violence, the release of schools for any purposes other than education, and the demining of contaminated areas.

Virginia Gamba held additional meetings with United Nations entities, representatives of Member States, and with international non-governmental organizations to discuss the impact of the crisis on children and raise awareness to child protection concerns.

“All children in Ethiopia deserve to be protected from armed conflict. The impact of the conflict on children has yet to be fully understood due to large numbers of allegations which are still under verification. However, it remains an imperative that children must be immediately and unconditionally released by parties to conflict and their reintegration assistance should be prioritized. I welcome the constructive engagement of the Government and its willingness to strengthen the protection of conflict-affected children and prevent grave violations against them going forward,” said Virginia Gamba. She also urged all those involved in further peace discussions to include child protection provisions in their talks.

The Special Representative welcomed the steps taken thus far by the Government to further strengthen child protection in Ethiopia, including the appointment of children and armed conflict focal points, including in the Ministry of Women and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the establishment of a national DDR programme, and the efforts towards improving services including for survivors of sexual violence, training of dedicated social welfare personnel, including those providing psycho-social and medical support, establishment of hotlines and safe reporting channels, and the launch of a national transitional justice process. ‘The United Nations remains ready to support,’ she emphasized.

She commended the work of the United Nations Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and all partners for their support to her mission and continued cooperation. She highlighted the need for innovative models of prevention, the urgent need for additional resources to meet the needs of the conflict-affected population, and to sustain the peace process because, as she emphasised, ‘ultimately, peace in Ethiopia remains the most sustainable safeguard to protect children and prevent violations against them.’