Twenty-five years ago, with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world made a historic commitment to its children. The convention, ratified by 194 countries, became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and generated significant progress. But much more remains to be done to protect children, especially those growing up in countries affected by conflict.
“Children continue to be killed, maimed, recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups, deprived of education and healthcare,” said Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. “Despite all our efforts, we haven’t changed the fact that children are still the most vulnerable in times of conflict.”
The extreme violence used by groups such as Boko Haram and ISIL create unprecedented challenges for the protection of children. These groups use tactics that directly target children, with high risk of long term trauma. In addition, deadly attacks against schools and hospitals, such as last week’s devastating suicide bombing in a school in northern Nigeria, are on the rise.
Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, adopted in 2000, aims to ban the compulsory recruitment of children under 18 in armed forces and to ensure that individuals under the age of 18 do not take part in hostilities.
“We now have 158 Member States who have ratified the Optional Protocol and I call on those who have not yet done so, to take steps towards ratification,” Zerrougui added.
Years of engagement with parties to conflict to end the recruitment and use of children are starting to yield results. There is an emerging consensus among the world’s governments that children do not belong in national security forces in conflict.
The campaign “Children Not Soldiers” builds on that consensus and aims to end the recruitment and use of children by government armed forces by the end of 2016.
The Special Representative calls on the international community to renew its commitment to fulfil the promise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to demand accountability for those who violate children’s rights.