Graça Machel and the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

In December 1993, following a recommendation by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN General Assembly expressed its concern “about the grievous deterioration in the situation of children in many parts of the world as a result of armed conflicts.”

The UN General Assembly and the Committee on the Rights of the Child asked the Secretary-General to name an expert to conduct a thorough study on the impact of conflict on children, including their participation in wars as child soldiers.

Graça Machel, Mozambique’s first post-independence Minister for Education, and an advocate for children’s rights, was named to undertake this massive project.

Graca Machel speaks with a former child soldier during a visit to a UNICEF-assisted camp for demobilized child soldiers near Freetown, in Sierra Leone. Photo: ©UNICEF/UNI29698/Grossman

Over two years, Graça Machel traveled to several countries affected by conflict and met children, families, humanitarian workers, Government officials and anyone who could help her gain a better understanding of what boys and girls were experiencing.

Her report, “Impact of armed conflict on children”, presented in 1996 to the General Assembly, described the brutality millions of children caught up in conflicts were exposed to and demonstrated the centrality of this issue to the international human rights, development and peace and security agendas. It was a call for urgent action.

She identified children as the primary victims of armed conflict and included a set of recommendations, including the nomination of a special representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict to keep the protection of children “very high on the international human rights, peace, security and development agendas”.

“Children can help. In a world of diversity and disparity, children are a unifying force capable of bringing people to common ethical grounds. Children’s needs and aspirations cut across all ideologies and cultures. The needs of all children are the same: nutritious food, adequate health care, a decent education, shelter and a secure and loving family. Children are both our reason to struggle to eliminate the worst aspects of warfare, and our best hope for succeeding at it.” – Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, Graça Machel

In December 1996, the General Assembly welcomed the report in its resolution A/RES/51/77 and recommended that the Secretary-General appoint a Special Representative on children and armed conflict.

Over twenty years later, the study remains widely used as a foundation for advocacy in child protection.

The Machel Study 10-Year Strategic Review

To mark the 10th anniversary of the original Machel Report,  the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF  and other United Nations and NGO partners undertook an assessment of the progress made since the publication of the original report.

The study reviewed the current situation faced by children in armed conflict including the impact of the changing nature of conflict. The review also presented the milestones that have been achieved since the original report such as the solid international child protection standards, the active involvement of both the General Assembly and the Security Council in making the issue a top priority, and the enhancement of strategies and programmes to protect war-affected children. The report also highlighted the priorities and the responses required in the new decade.

In 2007, the General Assembly was presented with a summary of the key findings of the strategic review in Part II of the annual report of the Special Representative to the General Assembly  (A/62/228).