Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG-CAAC at the Third Committee of the General Assembly Discussion of the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children Item 71 (a)
5 October 2023
Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
I am honoured to address the Third Committee to present my report to the General Assembly and brief on my mandate’s progress, and the challenges and opportunities for the protection of children affected by armed conflict, including my focus on data collection, partnerships, and engagement.
In 2022, the United Nations verified 27,180 grave violations against children, of which killing and maiming, and the recruitment and use of children, followed by abduction and the denial of humanitarian access, continued to be the highest violations. Shockingly, compared to 2021, attacks on schools and hospitals and their personnel surged by 112 percent. Education is, indeed, under attack.
I am concerned regarding risks to and vulnerabilities of displaced children. Displacement foments commission of violations and abuses including the recruitment and use by armed groups and abduction, sexual violence, and trafficking in children. Often, where children are displaced, health and education is disrupted and humanitarian assistance is denied. Climate shocks in conflict-affected areas further exacerbate displacement, while risks of killing and maiming to displaced or returning children in areas contaminated by mines and explosive ordnance present a real danger.
Given this context, data collection is critical. Striving to close information gaps, my Office researched the impacts of armed conflict on children with disabilities and that of climate insecurity on children affected by armed conflict through dedicated studies to be launched at the United Nations this fall. Moreover, my Office, in cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, especially women and children, is currently studying links between trafficking in children and the six grave violations.
Working with partners across the UN system, as well as with regional and subregional organizations, academia, and civil society, continues to be critical to the delivery of my mandate. Among the many partnership activities, I led this year were a Memorandum of Understanding between my office and UNESCO to exchange expertise on education in the reintegration of conflict-affected children, several consultations with civil society and academia, and the issuance of joint public statements with other United Nations offices to better protect children used and abused for, in and by armed conflict.
Through my visits to Colombia, Ethiopia, Israel and the State of Palestine, Mozambique, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation, I was able to follow up directly on the realities faced by children, but also to support governments and regional organizations in determining concrete ways to prevent and end violations. In May this year, my Office organized, jointly with the League of Arab States, a regional conference in Doha on the prevention of grave violations against children and armed conflict, that resulted in a consensus outcome document. In June, I participated in the Oslo Conference on Children and Armed Conflict. Also in June, I met in Addis Ababa with the Special Envoy on Youth of the African Union to explore areas for joint action and my Office organized a first consultation with the Envoy and young Africans just last week. I intend to put children at the centre in my forthcoming public campaign as the “ACT to Protect Children Affected by Armed Conflict” campaign ends in December.
In 2022, the United Nations’ successful engagement with parties to conflict resulted in about forty new commitments and agreed measures, as well as the release of over 12, 460 children. New legislation and accountability measures were adopted in several situations because of this engagement. My office conducted dozens of capacity building workshops including a virtual summer school with the University of Malta to deepen child protection expertise of the UN, governments, regional organizations, and UN country task forces as well as NGOs and academics.
Looking forward, we must remember that all persons under 18 years of age are entitled to the protections enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child including rights to education and documentation. Erosion of the international protection frameworks poses a grave threat to children’s rights, particularly for those between 13 and 18 years old, often treated as adults or subjected to counter-terrorism measures at a risk of having their own rights as children curtailed.
In conclusion, as this Committee deliberates the upcoming Rights of the Child resolution, I reiterate the need to better address the protection of children across the humanitarian-peace-development-human rights nexus. In this regard, my office will ask your support to develop a study to assess the possibility of organizing a conference of all United Nations Member States to determine a common approach and comprehensive response on the protection, prevention and reintegration needs of children and armed conflict in all its aspects.