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30 Years After the Adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Disregard for International Law Protecting Children During Conflict is Alarming

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Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council

Boys and girls around the world continued to be highly impacted by conflict and to suffer grievous violations of their rights, including while deprived of liberty for their actual or alleged association with armed groups, highlighted the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC) in her annual report to the Human Rights Council.

The report, which covers the period from December 2018 to December 2019, describes the disproportionate impact conflict has on children as well as progress and challenges for their protection including in the context of operations to counter violent extremism, protracted conflicts and cross border operations.

At the time of writing, the number of children verified as killed and maimed in 2019 exceeded verified numbers for all other grave violations. Recruitment and use continued unabated with the highest numbers verified in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen. Sexual violence remained significantly underreported due to fear of reprisals, the stigma associated with this violation, and the lack of services for survivors. Attacks on schools and hospitals persisted while the military use of schools further impaired children’s access to safe education. With a threefold increase compared to 2018, incidents of denial of humanitarian access for children represented one of the most worrying trends for the past year.

“The deprivation of liberty of children for their alleged or actual links with armed groups including those designated as terrorist by the United Nations continued to raise serious protection concerns. Security must come hand in hand with the respect of human rights and boys and girls used and abused in and by armed conflict should be considered primarily as victims. I reiterate my call on Member States to facilitate the safe return of their citizens, especially children deprived of their liberty for their suspected association with or membership in any armed group, including designated terrorist groups, stranded in crowded camps in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Iraq, bearing in mind the best interests of the child,” Special Representative Gamba said.

Translating Commitments to Actions

Increased collaborations with Member States, UN partners, human rights bodies and mechanisms, civil society organizations, as well as regional and sub regional organizations, helped securing commitments to international instruments such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC), promoting the criminalization of violations against children at the national level, and advocating for the prevention of violations. Field visits and public awareness raising have also enabled greater mobilized actions for children and led to concrete protection gains.

The Office of the Special Representative continued the compilation of lessons learned and best practices through the development of a practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict as well as the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers, co-chaired by UNICEF. By helping children deeply affected by conflict, we contribute to building a peaceful future for their country, thus making the work on sustainable reintegration programmes for all released children more relevant than ever. The SRSG called on Member States to fully support the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers and efforts to provide long-term reintegration programmes to children.

Despite challenging contexts, important achievements have taken place in several situations on the children and armed conflict agenda. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, perpetrators of child rights violations have been sentenced in line with the 2009 child Protection Law; in Afghanistan, the enactment of the Child Rights Protection Law criminalized child recruitment and the practice of bacha bazi; and in Somalia, authorities signed a roadmap to accelerate the implementation of their 2012 Action Plans to end and prevent child recruitment and use and killing and maiming.

The year 2019 also marked the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark treaty allowing for life changing progress for children around the world. Further, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC), will mark its 20th anniversary in 2020. These anniversaries are opportunities to reflect on how commitments are translated into tangible actions for children and what more can be done to better protect the most vulnerable ones in times of war: boys and girls. They are also opportunities to remind ourselves that children are human rights-holders and should be considered not only as objects of protection but also as individuals who can be agents of change by exercising their rights. The 2019 OPAC ratifications by Myanmar and the Gambia illustrated the importance of a strong engagement by the United Nations on the ground and of the advocacy role the SRSG-CAAC can play, including through her field visits.

“While commitments are important steps for a better protection of boys and girls, their translation into tangible actions on the ground is what ultimately makes a real difference for children affected by conflict. International law continues to be disrespected including during the conduct of hostilities and I call on parties to conflict to uphold international law and protection standards and to take concrete actions to protect civilians and specifically boys and girls,” said SRSG Gamba.

Click to read the full report

For additional information, please contact:

Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
+1-212-963-5986 (office) / +1-917-288-5791 (mobile) / vinet@un.org

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