Excellency, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
We all agree. Children belong on playgrounds, NOT battlefields. They belong in schools, not IDP camps. However, millions of children all around the world are left with the sad reality we will see in the short film that will be presented in a few minutes. .
I have personally witnessed that the international community has come a long way in understanding the effects of armed conflict on children. We have made significant progress to create mechanisms and tools to prevent violations against children in war, although tremendous challenges remain. I will elaborate on these challenges and how we can overcome them – together.
Let me first thank the organisers of this gathering, the German Foreign Office and the German Institute for International and Security Studies.
Germany is a strong supporter of the children and armed conflict mandate and an ally in addressing the plight of children affected by armed conflict. I cannot stress enough how timely and important this workshop is to identify new approaches to end and prevent attacks on schools and hospitals. In 2011, Germany ushered in the landmark Security Council resolution 1998 that focused on attacks on schools and hospitals during its tenure as the Chair of the Security Council working group on children and armed conflict.
The topic of today’s panel discussion is the effect of armed conflict on girls. But allow me first to describe my mandate, the main challenges we currently face and areas of progress.
As many of you know, my mandate focuses on six grave violations committed against children in times of armed conflict. The recruitment and use of children in conflict is probably the best known. We also monitor and report on the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence against children, abduction, denial of humanitarian access, and, of course, attacks on schools and hospitals. Each of these violations results in unspeakable suffering for children with long-term consequences.
It was in 1996 that the report ‘Children and Armed Conflict’ by Graca Machel raised international awareness regarding the prevalence of these grave violations against children. The United Nations Security Council has since endorsed this agenda as a matter of international peace and security, tasking my Office to coordinate the systematic monitoring and reporting of grave violations against children. Over the years, the Council has provided us with an increasingly robust framework of response and prevention mechanisms. For example, more than 20 parties to conflict with a pattern of recruiting, raping or killing children have entered into action plans with the United Nations. Action plans are commitments to implement concrete and time-bound measures, such as the release of child soldiers to end and prevent grave violations against children committed by an armed group or a Government armed force.
Years of constructive engagement with parties to conflict to protect children are starting to bear fruits. I have personally witnessed a change of attitude and behaviour. As recently as 2008 when I was in DRC, some government army commanders were not ashamed of having child soldiers with them when I visited their camps. Today, this would be unlikely. Even where children are still being recruited and used by armed groups and armed forces, they know that the world no longer tolerate this practice.
We can now affirm that a consensus is starting to emerge at least among the Governments of the world that children do not belong in armed forces in conflict.
Building on this consensus, I launched the Campaign Children, Not Soldiers, jointly with UNICEF, to end the recruitment and use of children by government armed forces by 2016.
The momentum and progress generated by the campaign is encouraging, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us to reach our objective. Ending child recruitment by government forces in the next two years is possible, but only if we work together, and share our expertise and resources.
It is important to recognize the progress accomplished, but the challenges remain enormous. Right now children are being recruited as soldiers. They are killed. Maimed. Abducted. Raped. School and hospitals, often the last sanctuaries for children affected by war, are bombed to rubble or used as military barracks.
The numbers speak for themselves: in the last annual report on children and armed conflict, we presented information on grave violations against children committed in 23 country situations.
Fifty-nine (59) armed groups and Government armed forces are currently on the Secretary-General’s list that identifies the perpetrators of one or several grave violations.
Today, millions of children are affected by armed conflict. We are at risk of losing entire generations in Syria, in the Central African Republic, Iraq; South Sudan, Nigeria; Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza. The list goes on and on.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am just back from Nigeria, where I saw the dramatic consequences of the violence affecting entire communities in the country’s northeast.
In one camp for displaced people, I met more than 100 unaccompanied children whose lives have been uprooted. I met women who left behind their children, others whose children had been killed or abducted by Boko Haram. I heard stories about girls abducted from their schools and forced into sexual slavery. A few hours before I landed in Abuja, a girl allegedly as young as 10 was used as a suicide bomber in a crowded Maiduguri market.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We will never repeat enough that girls are especially vulnerable in times of conflict.
For a long time, girls were especially in danger of falling in the gap of reintegration programmes. Girls are recruited by armed groups and armed forces and used as child soldiers in almost every conflict, in some situations just as frequently as boys. However, often, they do not serve as fighters, but as maids, cooks or sex slaves. In the early stages of programmes supporting the reintegration of former child soldiers, for example in West Africa, these girls were deemed not eligible for reintegration support simply because they did not have a Kalashnikov to hand in after the conflict had ended.
Today, we not only understand better how girls are used by parties to conflict, but also that being a child soldier does not necessarily mean fighting on the front line. This is not to say that girls are not used as fighters. They are. They are even used as suicide bombers. Today, reintegration programmes are also better tailored to age groups and to the specific needs of boys and girls in their normal economic, security and cultural environment. However, reintegrating former child soldiers, boys or girls, requires multi-dimensional, multi-layered and long-term approaches. In environments where national capacities are weak and donors are interested in time-bound projects, reintegration programmes remain the most underfunded aspect of the child protection community’s work. Funding is also difficult to obtain for broad, long-term programmes such as security and justice sector reform, although it is the cornerstone of a future peaceful society.
Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,
Much work also lies ahead of us to address sexual violence against children in times of conflict – a violation by which girls are disproportionally affected. In the latest field report from the Central African Republic, you can read the case of a four-year-old girl gang-raped by several soldiers. In another incident armed men stormed a house, executed the father and raped three sisters, aged 10, 13, and 14. Sadly, there are many such tragic stories in all conflicts around the world. We all froze in shock when we heard of the thousands of women and girls abducted in Iraq and in Nigeria.
Thousands of children are subjected to sexual violence in conflict every year. In conflict zones, sexual violence is compounded by a persistent climate of impunity which encourage soldiers or members of armed groups, to commit and repeat their crimes, going unpunished. Impunity is certainly one of the most favourable factors for sexual violence to happen.
Without adequate health and psychological services in place, child survivors of sexual violence will not be known. Adequate services won’t be provided. Social stigma and cultural obstacles also prevent boys and girls that have been raped from coming forward. In many cultural contexts, this applies to boys even more than it applies to girls. Corruption and dysfunctional justice systems impede bringing perpetrators to justice and identifying girls and boys in need of support. That is why we need to strengthen our Monitoring and Reporting mechanisms and tools.
How does the MRM come into play and how can it be strengthened to better reflect the scope of sexual violence against children, and better inform the response?
We can, and we need to strengthen the MRM by increasing our investment and capacity to monitor, report, and access children victims of sexual violence. Allow me to formulate a few ideas on this.
We could bring even more partners to the table. This would help us broaden the base and sources of documentation without lowering the standards of the process.
Strengthening the MRM to report on sexual violence also means sending meaningful signs to the perpetrators that the time for impunity is over and that sanctions will follow. This will create the confidence needed that information is not gathered for the sole purpose of producing a report but leads to true and genuine action taken as a result of it. This will contribute in return, to alleviate the cultural stigma borne by the victims, but also the shame carried by the family and the community. They will see that speaking out does not bring shame but that speaking out rather brings justice.
I always remind audiences that, it took years of advocacy and work to see tangible and irreversible progress on child recruitment and use; to see the sentence of an international court against the perpetrators of such violations. I have hope we are on a similar path for sexual violence against children and attacks on schools and hospitals.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to close by reiterating my appreciation of this valuable and important workshop hosted by our German partners. I am honoured to see all of you attending and participating in this critical panel discussion on the effects of conflict on the girl child. Children all around the world are in desperate need of your voice and they need it to be powerful.