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Seizing Opportunities to Better Protect Conflict-Affected Children is Critical as the World Responds to COVID-19

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Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Annual Report of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly

As the vulnerability of boys and girls living amidst hostilities continues and is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic, processes such as ceasefires, peace processes and security sector reform must be seized as opportunities to strengthen mechanisms to protect children, emphasized the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, in her Annual Report to the General Assembly published this week.

The report covers the period from August 2019 to July 2020 and details high levels of grave violations against children, with the denial of humanitarian access, attacks on schools and hospitals, and sexual violence showing some of the most worrying trends; it also highlights the central role of peace operations and special political missions to support to child protection efforts.

"The level of grave violations reported is only the tip of the iceberg; the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the despair of conflict-affected children. Staff may be unable to conduct monitoring and verification missions, children in detention are particularly vulnerable and reintegration programmes, as well as the delivery of services, are impacted. We must address these compounded challenges together and I urge Member States to continue to support the provision of services for children and the work of child protection actors now more than ever," said Virginia Gamba.

The Special Representative also reiterated her call to all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools, health infrastructure and protected persons, as they increasingly become strategic assets in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic; she further urged them to join the Secretary-General's and Security Council's global calls for ceasefires.

Strengthening Partnerships and Catalyzing Action

Strong collaboration with partners such as UNICEF, the UN Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, as well as with Member States and civil society organizations, enabled the SRSG to secure several commitments for conflict-affected children. Those include the criminalization of child recruitment and use in the Child Protection Code promulgated in 2020 in the Central African Republic (CAR), the comprehensive Action Plan signed by the Government of South Sudan covering all six grave violations, and military command orders and unilateral roadmaps aimed at ending and preventing grave violations against children issued by non-State actors in CAR, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

Close coordination with human rights and protection colleagues, as well as the Human Rights Council's Special Procedures, remained as important as ever. Furthermore, a reinforced regional approach led to stronger engagement with the African Union and the European Union.

The Special Representative travelled to countries on the agenda to strengthen engagement with parties to conflict such as in Myanmar, Somalia and South Sudan. The SRSG also used CAAC initiatives such as the ACT to Protect campaign, launched in several countries, and the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers, to call for more action and attention for conflict-affected children. Co-chaired by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF, the Global Coalition published its main findings in June 2020 in a document entitled Improving Support to Child Reintegration -- Summary of findings from three reports.

Seizing Opportunities to Better Protect Children

The report details how security sector reforms offer opportunities to establish legal and practical safeguards to realize the rights of children, improve interactions with them but also prevent violations from being committed by armed actors. Specialized child protection units in armed forces, dedicated child protection training and handover protocols to transfer children apprehended in the course of operations to civilian child protection actors are some of the practical measures highlighted. "The safety of boys and girls is critical to the legitimacy of any military activity. I encourage all armed forces as well as national, regional and international actors supporting security sector reform in conflict-affected countries to take into account child protection considerations," said Virginia Gamba.

The report further emphasizes the importance of using peace processes to strengthen child protection measures. The Special Representative urges all parties currently engaged in peace dialogues to include child-protection provisions in their discussions and agreements and to make full use of the Practical guidance* for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict* launched in February 2020.

The Special Representative also called on all Member States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020. She also continued to actively support the endorsement and implementation of international instruments like the Paris Principles, the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles.

15 years of Monitoring and Reporting

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the United Nations-led monitoring and reporting mechanism established through Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), the report underlines the centrality of this unique tool for delivering tangible and life-saving results in ending and preventing grave violations against conflict-affected children. At the same time, the report emphasizes challenges faced by the monitoring and reporting mechanism.

"The monitoring and reporting mechanism is only as strong as the resources available for its functioning. Well trained, specialized and dedicated child protection advisers on the ground are central pillars to ensure that the mechanism and the CAAC mandate are effective. More than ever the support of the General Assembly, in particular though its Fifth Committee, is critical in the translation of child protection priorities into mission staffing and budgeting processes," said Virginia Gamba.

Read 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

**Or **\ Sharon Riggle, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict\ +1-646-327-2574/ Riggle@un.org

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