UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's Remarks At The Global Launch Of The UNICEF Report, “25 Years Of Children And Armed Conflict: Taking Action To Protect Children In War”

July 12, 2022

  

NEW YORK (July 12, 2022) – "Excellencies, esteemed colleagues, distinguished guests, thank you all for joining us today.

"I want to thank the governments of Norway and Sierra Leone for co-hosting this event with us – and for their leadership on this critical issue.

"I would also like to thank our co-sponsors, the governments of Belgium, Mexico, Niger, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, for their steadfast support of the world’s most vulnerable children.

"I want to recognize the extraordinary work of the Office of Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, and to thank SRSG Gamba and her team for their tireless advocacy.

"And I want to salute Dr. Graça Machel, whose groundbreaking 1996 report galvanized public attention and action for children affected by conflict.

"As Dr. Machel noted a moment ago, that report made it harder for the world to avert its eyes from the brutal impact of war on children. And it called on all of us to live up to our most fundamental duty to protect the next generation.

"As the report we are releasing today makes uncomfortably clear, that call is no less urgent 25 years later.

"In fact, between 2005 and 2020 the UN verified more than a quarter million violations against children in situations of armed conflict – and we can now verify more than 26,000 violations in 2020, and 22,000 in 2021.

"This report presents verified data of these grave violations, but it does more than share statistics. It tells the story behind these statistics – analyzing and describing in detail the impact of war on children across time, across contexts, and across violations.

"It also pays tribute to the frontline teams who risk so much to verify this data. And it shows the power of monitoring mechanisms to drive positive change.

"As we heard expressed so powerfully just now by Ambassador Sulimani of Sierra Leone, such change is possible. Children can be protected, even amid war. Perpetrators can be held accountable. Reconciliation can be achieved.

"This report also highlights the growing relevance and strength of the Children and Armed Conflict Agenda.

"The tools that the UN Security Council has put in place to prevent and address violations against children – including the mechanism to monitor and report on violations -- are important and necessary.

"The critical information the CAAC agenda makes possible fuels more effective advocacy – and action. It puts armed actors on notice -- and helps us engage them in developing action plans that can bring about real change.

"Today, UNICEF is calling on the international community to recommit to the CAAC mandate – and to take concrete action.

"I want to highlight just a few of our new report’s key recommendations.

"First, every country needs to be on board. We need to accelerate endorsements of key international humanitarian and human rights instruments. These are the legal foundations for protecting children’s rights.

"But even more important, we need to accelerate adherence to these critical protections for children – and to the underlying principles and values they represent.

"When conflicts begin, all governments with the power to influence warring parties need to bring those powers to bear to protect children. And everyone with the capacity to create pressure on armed groups needs to use it.

"Second, we need to do more to support children who have survived grave violations. These children have seen things no child should see … experienced horrors and harm no child should ever suffer.

"To help them heal, we need to invest in the systems that support their wellbeing, their health, and their education -- including life skills training to help them rebuild their lives.

"Just as important, we need to change the way we think about and treat children affected by armed conflict – especially those who have been exploited and abused by armed groups.

"I recently met a young girl in Democratic Republic of Congo, who was faced with a choice: carry water for the armed group who killed her sister or die. No child should face that choice in the first place -- and no child should be doubly victimized for having been forced to make it.

"Whatever their circumstances, children are children. They neither create nor control conflict. They are its victims, and they need services and support ... understanding and solidarity.

"Especially for girls who have experienced -- or are at risk for -- gender-based violence, we need to invest in high-quality, community-based, age-appropriate, and gender-transformative services that can make all the difference in their lives.

"Third, we need to continue building the evidence base.

"The monitoring and reporting systems that the Security Council has established are making critical, verified data publicly available.  We can use that data to shape policies.

"For example, gender-disaggregated data has helped us understand better how conflict affects girls differently than boys. This helps us develop programming in more targeted and effective ways.

"We can also use it to drive advocacy – and to exert leverage on countries to take action.

"This brings me to a fourth recommendation. To protect children in times of war, we need to use every tool at our disposal. UN country-level engagement with all parties to conflict – including with non-state armed groups -- can be extremely effective in spurring action plans to protect children.

"For example, the report shows that in Nigeria, after the United Nations and the Civilian Joint Task Force, a non-state armed group, signed an action plan to end child recruitment, 2,203 children were released by 2019 – and no child has been verified as having been formally recruited since.

"Fifth, we need to strengthen government systems that can prevent violations – and escalate the fight against impunity.

"That means strengthening and enforcing national laws to hold perpetrators accountable. It means supporting survivor-centered justice and strengthening child protection systems.

"As I mentioned a moment ago, it also means ensuring that child justice systems recognize children’s rights -- and treat children like children.

"Excellencies, more children are affected by conflict today than at any other time since UNICEF was founded in the ashes of war more than 75 years ago. Every one of them has the right to be protected.

"We may not be able to prevent conflicts, but if we have systems and action plans in place, we can avert the worst harm to children when conflicts do occur. We can provide pathways for positive change, even in times of war.

"We must never accept that grave violations against children are somehow an inevitable outcome of violent conflict. They are not.

"Protecting children caught up in armed conflict today will lay a foundation for a brighter future for those children – and greater stability, security, and prosperity for their societies.

"As Dr. Machel said more than 25 years ago, the impact of conflict on children is everyone’s responsibility. The Children and Armed Conflict Agenda is a collective agenda.

"I look forward to working with all of you to drive change for every child, everywhere.

"Thank you."

# # # #

About UNICEF
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information please contact:
Mackenzie Dougherty, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2551, mdougherty@unicefusa.org