Talking about child soldiers at the Social Good Summit

“There is no acceptable way for children to be involved in hostilities,” Special Representative Leila Zerrougui told the audience of a panel on child soldiers at the Social Good Summit on Monday.

Grace Akallo, herself a former girl soldier abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, talked about the challenges she faced to rebuild her life after she escaped from the rebel group. She also talked about her current work as Founder and Executive Director of United Africans for Women and Children’s Right.

The panel, titled Child Soldiers Never Again: Protecting Children Caught in Conflict was moderated by Mark Goldberg, the Managing Editor of UN Dispatch.

You can watch the panel here:

SRSG Zerrougui’s remarks:

Good evening everyone,

I am honoured to be here and humbled to share the podium with Grace Akallo.

What is the first image that comes to your mind when you hear the word child soldier?

Probably a boy –African- with a gun taller than himself.

This is an image of the past.

This is an image of the present.

But this is not the only image that should come to your mind when you think about child soldiers.

For a long time, the common assumption was that child soldiers were recruited by force, abducted, drugged and beaten into submission for combat.

We now know there are many more ways for children, including girls, to become involved in conflict. They work as spies, porters, cooks, sex slaves –or bush wives, in the service of adult soldiers. Sometimes, they are suicide bombers, or used to plant explosive devices.

There are children who volunteer to become soldiers because they are persuaded it’s their duty to join the fight. Sometimes, poverty is the deciding factor.

There is no acceptable way for children to be involved in hostilities.

Making sure they are protected from conflict in countries torn by war is not easy – especially in places where the majority of the population is under 18, where poverty is everywhere and opportunities few and far between.

That’s why my mandate exists.

My team and myself are working to bring the voice of children to the highest level of the United Nations – the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and all other instances that can make a difference.

Right now on my agenda, I have 22 situations of conflict where child’s rights are violated.

Let me focus on one important aspect of our work…

Here in New York, the Security Council acknowledged how important it is to protect children and adopted resolutions:

•             to recognize that children need special protection from grave child rights violations.

•             to set up a system to gather information on violations and on who is violating children’s rights. The violators are placed on what we call the list of shame of the Secretary-General.

I work with our partners to reach out to those who are on the list. We want them to stop the violations, and to commit to work with the United Nations to release and reunify children with their families. We also want them to prevent future recruitment and use of children.

 

This is not impossible. And it has happened in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Uganda. As a result, they were removed from the list of shame.

Right now, 8 Government forces are listed for recruitment and use of children. Six of them have committed to work with us to end the violations.

The engagement of the international community continues to lead to

•             the release of thousands of children from armed forces and groups every year,

•             programmes from UNICEF and other partners to help children reunite with their families and reintegrate their communities.

These are just a few elements of my work and my mandate.

Demobilizing children is crucial, but it’s also the beginning of a long road to a new life for children affected by conflict. And I stop here for now, because I know Grace has a lot to say to you about this.