Place peace first by placing children first
“Prime Minister Löfven, Special Representative Gamba, civil society briefer Yenny Londoño, excellencies, members of the Security Council. I appreciate your members’ steadfast commitment to the plight of children affected by armed conflict around the world.
“Today, one in every four children lives in a country affected by conflict or disaster. Like the statistics detailed in the Secretary General’s report, “one in every four children” is a number almost beyond comprehension.
“Almost. Until you meet, as I have, the children and young people whose lives are being shattered by conflicts in — for example — Yemen, Mali and South Sudan.
“The children who are malnourished and sick…at risk of being maimed or killed by a landmine or by deliberate attacks on schools and hospitals… vulnerable to gender-based violence…recruited to the fighting… losing hope not only in their futures, but in the futures of their countries.
“UNICEF is sparing no effort to support these children. In Iraq, for example, we reached 1.3 million children on the move with lifesaving supplies like water and ready-to-eat rations, and almost 400,000 with psychosocial support last year. And in South Sudan, we reached 780,000 children under five with health, nutrition, WASH, education and protection services.
“With our partners, we are also making progress in releasing children from armed groups and armed forces, and supporting their reintegration.
“Last year, 12,000 children were reintegrated into their communities. For example, in the Central African Republic, about 3,000 children received interim care, psychosocial support and family-reunification services. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF worked with partners to release and reintegrate over 3,200 children from armed groups. And so far this year, 806 children have been released from armed forces and groups in South Sudan and are receiving reintegration services.
“Our work must continue. Last year saw 21,000 verified violations against children — a dramatic increase from the year before. More children killed or maimed. More young survivors of rape. More recruited to the fighting. More abducted. And these are just the verified numbers. Our teams on the ground know that the number of violations is in fact much higher.
“As a global community, we must ask ourselves what will become of these young lives — in both the short and long terms.
“In the short-term, children’s lives are in immediate danger — not only from the violence itself, but as basic services collapse. In Yemen, I visited hospitals staffed by workers who haven’t been paid in two years. Where there aren’t enough respirators and medicine to go around. Where mothers hold their frail, acutely malnourished children. Where psychosocial workers counsel terrified children about the horrors they’ve witnessed and remembered.
“These immediate costs of conflict come with long-term consequences. If we fail to prevent violations against children today, we fail to prevent violence against children tomorrow. Today’s children will grow up to see violence and conflict as normal… acceptable…inevitable.
“Think of the children who have grown up knowing nothing but war. In his lifetime, a seven-year old Syrian child has never known a peaceful Syria. An Afghan teenager has never known a peaceful Afghanistan. And consider what the children of South Sudan have endured — and continue to endure — as they mark their country’s seventh year of independence today.
“How can we prepare children to shape peaceful futures if they don’t know what peace even looks like?
“So as we renew our call for these conflicts to stop, we also call for zero tolerance of all violations against children — violations that fuel grievances that enflame and perpetuate conflicts across generations.
“Violations like attacks on hospitals and schools, which is why we call again on states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.
“Violations like deliberate targeting of children — which must stop.
“And violations like detaining children for associating with armed groups or armed forces. We commend the Council’s strong resolution — proposed by Sweden — on this issue.
“Too often, these children are locked up with adults, and without legal representation, due process or contact with family members. All contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law.
“Progress is possible. Just today, the Nigerian army released 183 children — children who were detained for alleged association with Boko Haram. The result of intense effort and engagement for their release.
“As we work for many more children’s release, we must also support these young lives as they re-integrate into their communities.
“Stigma is often the single biggest barrier. As we reintegrate a child into a community we face difficult questions. How does a community view a boy who was part of a raid that killed a member of that community? Or a girl who was abducted or abused by an armed group and has never been to school?
“We must invest in local solutions that address community fears and concerns, while giving these children the chance at a normal life that they deserve. Including through quality education, training in life skills and work skills and psychosocial support.
“We also believe that child protection and upholding children’s rights is a fundamental part of any peace process. Which is why we welcome the Council’s recent request to launch a process to compile guidance and best practices on weaving children’s rights into peace negotiations.
“In the Philippines, for example, over the last decade, UNICEF has worked closely with commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to release over 1,850 children from its ranks and begin the process of reintegrating them into their communities. This included raising awareness with commanders and community members to end recruitment and provide support, education and family-intervention plans for the released. This process not only led to the group’s de-listing in the Secretary General’s 2017 report — most importantly, it helped re-start peace negotiations and it helped restart young lives.
“And in Mali, children themselves are becoming agents of peace in their communities, and raising awareness of the rights that every child has to protection, education, birth registration and health.
“Last year, UNICEF trained 310 children as “Peace Ambassadors,” who go door-to-door in vulnerable communities to promote dialogue, peacebuilding and the importance of keeping children and young people — especially girls — in school.
“And this year, as part of the Malian Peace Agreement, we’ve helped train 2,500 young people to promote peace in pastoral and farming communities through local meetings, debates, radio broadcasts and social media. Two examples of how children and young people are not just passive recipients of peace and reconciliation efforts — but how they can lead them.
“But as conflicts increase in number and ferocity, thousands of children are slipping through our safety nets worldwide. Civilians and communities are being targeted on a scale not seen since World War Two. Consequences for violations are small — if they are imposed at all.
“As most major conflicts are driven and perpetuated by political conflict, addressing them demands building political will.
“Political will to increase resources to reach children and young people with the support they need, and build the human capital that every society needs to shape a resilient and sustainable future.
“Political will to end to violations against children. Now.
“Political will for all parties to conflict to adhere to humanitarian law and principles — not as a distant, utopian dream but as a practical and necessary pathway to a better future.
“Most of all, political will to end these conflicts. Urgently. To place peace first by placing children first.
“When faced with the escalating consequences of conflict to a generation of children who have never known peace, we have a duty to act. All of us. For the children — and for the future of our world.
“Once again, I thank the Council for the opportunity to shine a light on this important issue. I look forward to your deliberations.”