United Nations Partners

Protecting children requires the engagement of the United Nations system as a whole.

The Special Representative acts as a convener, and facilitates collaboration on child protection among the United Nations, both at the Headquarters and field levels.

Working with the UN General Assembly

A view of the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters.

Over the years, the General Assembly has demonstrated its commitment to the issue of children affected by armed conflict. In the 1990s, 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 in December 1996, both greatly contributed to placing the issue of children and armed conflict firmly on the international agenda.

The resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly to create the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict recommended that he or she:

(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

The Special Representative presents his/her report 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.

Every year, the General Assembly adopts a resolution on the Rights of the Child, which 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.

Working with the UN Security Council

Wide view of the Security Council chamber as the UN Secretary-General presents his annual report on children and armed conflict. Photo: UN

In 1999, the first resolution on children and armed conflict placed the issue of children affected by war on the Security Council’s agenda. The resolution identified and condemned 6 grave violations affecting children the most in times of conflict, and requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue.

In 2001, the Security Council sent a powerful message to the world that the Recruitment or use of children as soldiers would no longer be tolerated. Resolution 1379 requested the Secretary-General to attach an annex to his report on children and armed conflict, in which he would list parties to conflict who recruit and use children in situations on the Security Council’s agenda. In a significant step, the resolution went further by requesting the Secretary-General to also list parties to conflict in situations that, although not on the Security Council’s agenda, in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with Article 99 of the United Nations Charter.

Subsequent resolutions added four additional triggers for listing: Sexual violence against children, Killing or maiming of children (Resolution 1882 in 2009), Attacks against schools or hospitals (Resolution 1998 in 2011)  and Abduction of children (Resolution 2225 in 2015).

Partnerships in the field

Dee Brillenburg, head of the child protection unit at MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, talks about the protection of children to members of an armed group. Photo: Dee Brillenburg

UNICEF, DPKO, DPA, OHCHR, UNHCR and the entire UN system are essential for the implementation of the mandate in countries affected by conflict and at UN headquarters.

In countries where parties to conflict are listed, the Country  Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting, co-chaired by UNICEF and the highest UN representative, are mandated to collect information on the impact of conflict on children, respond to grave violations and engage in advocacy. For example, they assist in the release of children, provide reintegration services, and help vacate schools used militarily, often at a moment’s notice.

Watch this video describing the work of child protection officers and produced by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Working with the Human Rights Council

 The General Assembly has also created space for the children and armed conflict mandate in human rights machinery by requesting the Special Representative to report to the Human Rights Council.

Every year, the Special Representative submits a report to the Human Rights Council to inform the body of the progress made as well as the remaining challenges to protect the rights of war-affected children. The report is presented during an interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council, together with the Special Representative on Violence Against Children, which allows the Special Representative to highlight the many links between the work of the mandate and that of the Council, as well as to exchange views with Member States on key areas of concern.

The Office of the Special Representative also submits information relating to countries on the children and armed conflict agenda for the Universal Periodic Review process of the Human Rights Council. When children and armed conflict issues are included in country-specific recommendations, it reinforces common advocacy efforts to promote greater protection of children in situations of armed conflict. Further, the Office of the Special Representative has worked closely with Special Procedures and Commissions of Inquiry mandated by the Human Rights Council, with a view to ensuring that the rights of children affected by armed conflict are given due attention in their work. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is another important interlocutor. Close cooperation has been ongoing for many years so that the protection of the rights of children in situations of armed conflict are given consideration and concerns are reflected in the Committee’s concluding observations on states. The Special Representative and his/her office have also engaged closely with the Human Rights Committee, including in relation to the review of state reports submitted under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.