The lasting impact of armed conflicts on children

Three children stand in the ruins of a Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants’ house Three children stand in the ruins of a Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants’ house © AFP Photo

The UN Secretary General emphasizes the need to protect children affected by fighting in war zones

At present, more than one in ten children worldwide are affected by conflicts, being drawn into hostilities and exposed to a myriad of risks which deprive them of the opportunity to fully experience childhood. “Children have no role in conflict”, said António Guterres, UN Secretary General, during a high-level UN Security Council briefing on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. He cited examples of horrific abuses faced by children in war zone, such as sexual violence, abduction, being drafted as soldiers or exploited as messengers, and explained the lasting damage these violations are going to cause. In spite of the devastating fact that some 250 million youth live in countries affected by conflict and violence, Guterres was also cautiously optimistic due the increasing worldwide awareness about these violations. In particular, he highlighted the positive role of the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism established in 2005 by resolution 1612. The resolution facilitates the systematic collection of accurate, timely and reliable information on six grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict, namely their  killing, inscription into  the armed forces, being exposed to sexual violence against, abduction, attacks against schools or hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access for them. 

The other participants welcomed Guterres’ commitment to protecting children. However, some participants highlighted the need to put action to words by taking concrete steps to protect children in all phases of armed conflicts. Smaïl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security underlines in this regard that it was fundamental to address and bring into the peace processes the violations suffered by children. Otherwise, the spread of a culture of impunity, injustice and lawlessness would provide fertile ground for a relapse into violence and conflict.  Jo Becker, Director of Advocacy of Children’s Rights at Human Rights Watch, spoke on behalf of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a global network of humanitarian organizations, stressing that the results achieved  since 1999, when the Security Council first became seized of the matter of  children in armed conflicts, was simply not good enough, as a  Watchlist analysis of 444 documents related to war and conflicts showed that fewer than 18 percent included safeguards for the protection of children .

The UN Secretary General also launched a new Practical Guidance for Mediators to Protect Children in Situations of Armed Conflict, aimed at supplying mediators and negotiators the means to conduct rights-based analyses of conflicts. This document stresses the strategic importance of including children’s rights and their needs in peace negotiations to be taken into consideration by mediators from the onset of negotiations and providing the respective tools. Moreover, the Practical Guidance showcases inspirational stories and experiences of numerous conflict zones that brought tangible results such as, the release of boys and girls armed groups in Colombia, South Sudan and Nepal held in captivity and their reintegration in civilian life. Putting children at the heart of efforts to prevent and resolve violent conflicts constitutes a major step forward. However, as Guterres recognized, this is not enough and in order to guarantee the protection of children on a long-term basis, a wider approach addressing the causes of armed conflicts preventing them is required. This is not an easy task and it requires all involved parties to undertake additional steps to reverse the current trend of the continuing increase of grave violations against children in conflict. To achieve a positive impact on the lives of millions of children, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, encouraged Member States, regional organizations, mediators and any other actor involved in peace processes to use and disseminate the Practical Guidance. 


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Author: Michele Pitta

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