New York, 22 November 2011 - Sunday, 20 November marked Universal Children’s Day, a day to remember the children growing up in wars throughout the world, and to reaffirm our commitment to stand up for their rights and to take firm action.
Conflict often impacts children disproportionately. The lives of hundreds and thousands of girls and boys are at the mercy of armed rebels groups who raid villages, schools, and hospitals. They separate families, and enslave children in remote bush camps. Terrorism makes children a primary target of modern warfare, including through their use as suicide bombers.
United Nations Peacekeepers are uniquely placed to protect children. Since 1999, following the almost unimaginable atrocities during the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Security Council has empowered peacekeepers to prevent and respond to violations of the most vulnerable. On a daily basis, peacekeepers assess the threats and risk faced by civilians they are mandated to serve. Their strong presence provides protection and serves as a deterrent against roaming armed groups. Today, child protection is factored into all of their military operations and six out of the 16 DPKO-led field missions have a specific child protection mandate, including the newly created mission in South Sudan. We continue to see solid results from their efforts.
This year, child protection advisors have developed with the Afghan Government an action plan to end the association of children with the Afghan National Security Forces. With the support of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Government has put in place important measures to prevent underage recruitment by providing United Nations access to security facilities, by the establishment of an alert mechanism, the training of Government officials in age verification, as well as a nation-wide awareness campaign on the issue.
Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in coordination with the National Armed Forces, have carried out physical screenings of newly formed military units to ensure that children are not integrated in the process. From May to June alone, these screenings have led to the separation of 33 children. In Sudan at least four different armed groups operating in Darfur have made concrete commitments to end the use of child soldiers and initiated action plans to release child soldiers.
Prior to deployment and on the ground, peacekeepers receive targeted training which enables them to understand the specific protection concerns of children. Together with UNICEF and Save the Children Sweden, we have committed to reviewing and reinforcing the existing training for peacekeepers on this issue.
Child protection advisors in missions, along with their counterparts in UNICEF and other United Nations agencies, act as the eyes and ears of the Office for Children and Armed Conflict in the field, reporting on violations committed against children. Through the systematic naming and shaming of child rights violators by the Secretary-General, the world and the Security Council know who and where the perpetrators are and can take action, including sanctions, to bring such violations to an end.
On Universal Children’s Day every Peacekeeper - from the leadership, to uniformed personnel to civilian staff - is reminded that all of us share an individual and a collective responsibility to advance the protection of children.
Within this responsibility lies the hope of thousands of boys and girls in conflict who look to us to provide this protection.
For further information, please contact:
Timothy La Rose
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General
for Children and Armed Conflict
Chief, Public Affairs Section
Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Department of Field Support