On the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers we reflect on the tens of thousands boys and girls who are recruited today in armed conflicts. Even today, in about twenty countries all over the world, children are exposed to the cruelties of wars and conflicts: they are witnesses or victims to these cruelties and, in many cases, are forced to use violence themselves.
On the 21st of February, Belgium will organize with Child Soldiers International a Conference in New York at the occasion of the 18th birthday of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In doing so, our country wishes to put the need to stop the recruitment and participation of children in armed conflicts high on the international agenda.
To bring a halt to the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts is a priority of Belgium’s foreign policy. The International conference on Children and Armed Conflict which took place in Brussels in February 2017, illustrates the leading role of our country on this issue. Her Majesty the Queen and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders chaired this conference which brought together international experts for an exchange on the protection of children in armed conflicts.
This issue is also a Belgian priority within the United Nations. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Belgium initiated with Uruguay a group of friends to make sure that the problem of children in armed conflicts is duly integrated in all the activities of the Council. In New York, during an open debate of the UN Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, Minister Reynders contributed to the discussion. He also took part in an event jointly organized by Belgium and UNICEF on the release and reintegration in society of child soldiers. Belgium contributes financially, amongst others, to the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) of UNICEF. The MRM provides trustworthy information regarding violations of children’s rights in armed conflict situations.
Our embassy network is also following up on the issue. In Amman, the Belgian embassy is co-chairing a working group, together with the Canadian embassy on the use of children in the conflict in Syria.
There is a growing consensus today that children require additional protection in armed conflicts. Through its continued international commitment, within the EU as well as within the UN, our country wants to contribute to making child soldiers soon a thing of the past.