NEW YORK (June 26, 2024) –"Council President Ambassador Joonkook Hwang, Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair of the group of the Elders, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

"In 2023, the United Nations verified 32,990 grave violations against children– the highest number ever recorded during the CAAC mandate … and a 21 percent increase over 2022, which previously held the title of worst year ever.

"The numbers neither capture the full extent of grave violations, nor the deep physical and psychosocial harm they have caused to children’s lives, families and communities.

"The numbers are, however, indicative of larger trends and patterns affecting children… more children are being killed and maimed … more are being raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence … and more instances of denial of humanitarian access to children … all by a significant margin.

"I would like to highlight three of the situations included in the Secretary-General’s report.

"Children in Israel and the State of Palestine continue to endure incomprehensible suffering – particularly in the Gaza Strip where the scale of death and destruction is staggering. In 2023, 4,312 Palestinian and 70 Israeli children were verified as killed or maimed, representing 37 percent of all verified cases of killing and maiming included in the report. Most casualties were caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.

"However, more than 23,000 reported cases of children killed and maimed during 2023 have yet to be verified because of insecurity, movement restrictions, and significant risks to humanitarian personnel operating in Gaza. In addition, the bodies of thousands of the missing children remain buried under the rubble. These numbers do not include the thousands of violations reported so far in 2024.

"After nearly nine months of horrible conflict, UNICEF and other humanitarian actors are still struggling to reach children in need. This is because we continue to face obstacles to the safe movement of aid into and throughout Gaza and these obstacles are directly related to the increasing number of acutely malnourished children.

"UNICEF urges parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations to protect children, and to immediately enter into a complete ceasefire – as this Council has called for in its Resolutions 2712 and 2725.

"Turning now to Sudan where, after more than a year of war, the country is now home to the largest child displacement crisis in the world with an estimated 4.6 million Sudanese children displaced internally and across borders and an almost 500 percent increase in grave violations.

"Countless children have been exposed to the horrific violence. The UN has verified the killing and maiming of 1,244 children by parties to the conflict in 2023, and rampant grave violations have been reported so far in 2024.

"Earlier this month, at least 55 children were reportedly killed or maimed in an attack in Wad El Noura in Al-Jazira state. And now, thousands of children in El Fasher, in Darfur, are facing daily clashes and indiscriminate shelling while parts of the city remain under siege. According to credible reports, more than 400 children have been killed or maimed in El Fasher since the start of May.

"Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the intensifying conflict in the east has led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the country since 2003,  leaving 7 million people displaced. In 2023, the UN verified 281 incidents of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery – with most violations perpetrated against girls. The use of sexual violence as a modus operandi of armed groups is spiraling.

"During my recent visits to the DRC, I met with adolescent girls who had run away with their siblings when their villages were attacked and who now headed their households.  I remember 16-year-old Florence who fled with her three brothers and sisters to Goma, after having experienced terrible violence.

"Making matters worse, the conflict in the east is intensifying at the same time as the departure of MONUSCO has begun. There is a very real risk that the humanitarian crisis in the DRC could soon become a catastrophe.

"Mr President, these are just three of the twenty-six situations covered in the Secretary-General’s report.

"Thousands of other children in countries like Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Myanmar, Ukraine and Yemen suffered grave violations in 2023. And millions more remain at risk.

"The CAAC mandate has been in place for nearly three decades. This year’s report shows plainly that despite the global consensus on the need to protect children during war, parties to conflict are not fulfilling their obligations under international law. These grave violations do not happen on their own – they result from the choices and actions of perpetrators, State and non-State parties to conflict.

"Mr President… the CAAC agenda is an effective tool to mitigate the impact of conflict on children. This past year has seen notable examples. As highlighted by SRSG Gamba, progress was achieved by the Government of Iraq on their Action Plan, and by Ukraine on their prevention plan… while the opposition Syrian National Army committed to an Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use, and the killing and maiming of children.

"And importantly, with the support of UN missions and civil society partners, UNICEF provided protection and reintegration support to nearly 11,000 children previously recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups. 

"UNICEF appreciates the dedicated financial support for the Children and Armed Conflict agenda from Norway and Belgium, following the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict last year … without which this work would not have been possible.

"Mr President… these examples show that meaningful progress is possible … especially when there is military and political will, constructive engagement, and collaboration. But more is needed given the increase in verified violations.

"Distinguished Council Members, members of the international community ... you are in a unique position to help. We urge you, on behalf of children in conflict, to take four key actions:

"First, we call on you to reaffirm your strong support for the Children and Armed Conflict mandate, the monitoring and reporting mechanism, and the larger CAAC architecture. The independently verified and robust UN data before you, provided by this mechanism, is a core tool of the mandate. It informs all our actions toward tangible results for children. This work is often undertaken in constrained conditions at great personal risk.

"Second –we ask this Council to recommit to and promote the consensus that children should be spared from harm and violence. Council Members and the international community should engage in reinforced, sustained diplomatic efforts to end conflicts, and to prevent escalation of conflicts. Humanitarian, peace and development actors all stand ready to support the process, but we cannot do it without you.  In this regard, we urge the Security Council to take further meaningful action to alleviate the suffering of children in Sudan.

"In addition, state and non-state actors that provide material, financial and diplomatic support to parties committing grave violations against children also bear responsibility. They should ensure that any support they provide to parties is consistent with their obligations under international humanitarian law and use their influence to ensure that parties respect international law to protect the lives and well-being of children.

"Third, we need your support to advocate for humanitarian space for the United Nations to continue engaging with all parties to conflict to develop prevention and protection tools like the Action Plans, and for humanitarian access to assist and protect children.

"And lastly, adequate resources are needed to fund not only the MRM mechanism, but also specialized child-centred services for survivors of grave violations, and advocacy to prevent and end these violations. This is particularly urgent in the context of withdrawals of peacekeeping or special political missions. I remember when I led Children Affected by Armed Conflict responses 20 years ago in Sri Lanka and Sudan, we had the resources not only to cover monitoring and reporting mechanisms but to support the reintegration of children released from armed groups and work on preventing grave violations.

"Mr President, rest assured that UNICEF stands ready as a steadfast partner in these efforts. I hope you will join us all in putting children first. Thank you."

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