Over the years, the General Assembly has demonstrated its commitment to the issue of children affected by armed conflict. In 1996, the publication of the groundbreaking report “Impact of armed conflict on children” by Graça Machel, followed by the creation of the mandate of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (December 1996), both greatly contributed to placing the issue of children and armed conflict firmly on the international agenda.

A General Assembly Mandate

Excerpts from UN General Assembly Resolution 51/77:

Recommends that the Secretary-General appoint for a period of three years a Special Representative on the impact of armed conflict on children.

Recommends that the Special Representative:
(a) Assess progress achieved, steps taken and difficulties encountered in strengthening the protection of children in situations of armed conflict;

(b) Raise awareness and promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by armed conflict and encourage the development of networking;

(c) Work closely with the Committee on the Rights of the Child,
relevant United Nations bodies, the specialized agencies and other competent bodies, as well as non-governmental organizations;

(d) Foster international cooperation to ensure respect for children’s rights in these situations and contribute to the coordination of efforts by Governments, relevant United Nations bodies, notably the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Centre for Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the specialized agencies and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, relevant special rapporteurs and working groups, as well as United
Nations field operations, regional and subregional organizations, other competent bodies and non-governmental organizations;

Requests the Special Representative to submit to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights an annual report containing relevant information on the situation of children affected by armed conflict, bearing in mind existing mandates and reports of relevant bodies;

The Special Representative reports to the General Assembly annually with information on progress achieved, challenges and outlines ongoing cooperation to better address the plight of children affected by conflict. With the submission of the report, the Assembly is kept abreast of the most pressing and emerging issues. The presentation of the report to a Third Committee session in October each year also serves as an interactive dialogue between Member States and the Special Representative. The Special Representative is also involved in General Assembly thematic initiatives related to children and armed conflict, including the Sustainable Development Goals, discussions related to refugees and internally displaced persons and the impact of violent extremism on children.

Over the years, the General Assembly has adopted essential treaties and resolutions to create a normative framework to better protect children from the effects of war. The resolution on the Rights of the Child, adopted annually, addresses current issues and challenges. This resolution is negotiated within the Third Committee of the General Assembly on social, humanitarian, and cultural affairs, and generates advances such as the upcoming Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

In addition, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict provide the foundations for the protection of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has almost universal ratification and the Special Representative continues to advocate with Members States who have not yet done so to ratify the Optional Protocol.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
In parallel to the development of the mandate were efforts to adopt an international instrument to end and prevent the recruitment of children in armed conflict. In 2000, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict was adopted by the UN General Assembly. On 12 February 2002, the protocol entered into force.

Under the Protocol, States are required to:
– ban compulsory recruitment below the age of 18;
– ensure that any individual in their armed forces under the age of 18 does not take part in hostilities;
– take all necessary measures to prohibit and prevent the recruitment and use of children under 18 by non-State armed groups;
– with 165 ratifications as of October 2016, OPAC is becoming a universal legal norm, and has already impacted the lives of thousands of children worldwide.

The General Assembly has also created space for the children and armed conflict mandate in human rights machinery through requesting the Special Representative to report to the Human Rights Council and its predecessor body, the Commission on Human Rights.

Group of Friends

Some Member States have also formed a “Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict” that provides a venue to discuss related issues and to advocate for the rights of children in support of the Office. Canada has been chairing the group since 2006.