A child soldier released from an armed group in South Sudan with the help of UNICEF. Photo: UNICEF

In 2001, the UN Security Council sent a powerful message to the world that the recruitment and use of child 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.

New triggers for listing

Click here to read the 2020 Secretary-General Annual Report on CAAC.

On three occasions, the Security Council asked the Secretary-General to expand the scope of his annexes and to also list parties responsible for:

62 armed groups or armed forces, in 14 countries, have been listed for one or more violations in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report covering the year 2019.

 Engagement with parties to conflict

The Security Council indicated that to be removed from the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict, parties to conflict named in the report had to engage in dialogue with the UN to develop and fully implement Action Plans. Action Plans are designed to end and prevent violations against children for which parties to conflict are listed.

For example, an Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by Government security forces can include the following actions:

A party to conflict shall be eligible for de-listing upon United Nations verification that all activities included in an Action Plan have been successfully implemented.

The Special Representative, and the entire UN system, use every opportunity for engagement with parties to conflict to obtain commitments and actions that make a difference in children’s lives.

Children, Not Soldiers

In 2014, the Special Representative launched the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers” with UNICEF to bring about a global consensus that child soldiers should not be used in conflict. The campaign has now ended, but the consensus envisioned is now a reality. All Governments concerned by the Campaign are engaged in an Action Plan process with the United Nations. While crises have hampered progress in some contexts, there have been significant improvements and a reduction in verified cases of recruitment and use of children by national security forces in others.

ACT to Protect

In 2019, the Special Representative launched the campaign “ACT to Protect Children Affected by Conflict”. Building on the success of Children, Not Soldiers, ACT to Protect aims at invigorating efforts to raise awareness about the core of the mandate – the six great violations. The campaign will run until the end of 2022 and has been launched so far in South Sudan, Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic, as well as New York, Brussels and Bangkok.

Engagement with non-State armed groups

A key challenge and priority of the Special Representative is engagement with non-State actors to end and prevent grave violations against children. Non-State armed groups have systematically constituted the vast majority of parties listed for grave violations against children in the annual reports of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict.

There are new possibilities of engagement to respond to and prevent violations committed by non-State armed groups but dialogue with this diverse group of actors presents unique challenges. Their nature, operational environments, aspirations and objectives need to be taken into consideration. The cooperation of Governments is also critical. As part of her advocacy, the Special Representative has urged all Governments concerned to facilitate dialogue between the United Nations and non-State armed groups, as a way to achieve the common goal of protecting children.

Peace processes as entry points to protect children

From early on, peace talks and ceasefire negotiations were identified as entry points to address children’s needs and their protection. When parties to a conflict begin to negotiate peace, there are unique opportunities to address the needs of those who often form the majority of the population: children. This mandate has demonstrated on several occasions that parties to conflict can agree on the protection of children, even when they disagree on almost everything else. Engagement on issues such as the separation, release and handover of children can provide an entry point and offer a unique common denominator for parties in otherwise difficult or protracted negotiations.

Peace processes are critical opportunities and United Nations bodies, Member States and mediators are encouraged to support the inclusion of child protection priorities and perspectives in negotiations by using the Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict launched in February 2020.