UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Small arms

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During conflicts, small arms and light weapons devastate children’s lives. The vast majority of casualties are directly attributable to these firearms. In addition to being victims, children have been taught to handle these weapons, which are lethal but light and easy to use. The use of small arms in conflicts has scarred and traumatised generations of children, both physically and emotionally. Long after peace agreements have been signed and the soldiers have gone home, the high prevalence of small arms in post-conflict society perpetuates a culture of violence. Some former combatants view the gun as their means to economic survival. In other cases, civilians arm themselves to protect their families and property. Children are then exposed to the dangers of weapons within their own homes, resulting in a vicious cycle of crime and violence.

The Spread of small arms creates a serious global problem and requires an equally urgent response because the lives and future of children are at stake. These weapons have extinguished more young lives than they have protected.”  Carol Bellamy, Executive Director, UNICEF UNICEF was instrumental in putting the humanitarian costs of small arms on the agenda of the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. The conference helped build political will for action against small arms, including in relation to children. UNICEF also supports regional initiatives, which are essential to furthering programmatic work. UNICEF has collaborated with NGOs on the child-focused agenda within the (link to)International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a forum for over 300 NGOs from around the world to network and undertake advocacy activities. UNICEF’s involvement encouraged many NGOs to include child-focused elements in their programming. UNICEF’s efforts are aimed at keeping weapons out of children’s hands and keeping weapons out of the hands of those who violate children’s rights. This is a daunting task given the scope and complexity of the problem. 

UNICEF Actions:

  • In Albania, the UNICEF campaign ‘Don’t let guns kill our dreams’ highlighted the threat of small arms and light weapons. The campaign is linked with landmine awareness.
  • In Kosovo (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), a survey seeks to identify and analyse the link between an increase in the use of small weapons and increased violence and intolerance among ethnic groups. UNICEF will use the findings to develop a communication strategy for young people and children, promoting safer and more tolerant behaviour.
  • In Somalia, UNICEF uses a holistic approach to youth development in its efforts to eradicate the gun culture. Across the country, 35 youth groups are being set up to provide a space for boys and girls to cope with the violent disturbances of their lives. The groups provide recreational, sports and cultural activities, including traditional music, dance, drama and debate. They also organize and implement community development, peace promotion and disarmament.
  • Surveys in Tajikistan use participatory methodologies to gauge children’s perceptions of small arms and violence. The children’s views and the results of the survey will be used by local authorities, teachers, government representatives, community organisers and others to produce an agenda for action against small arms.
Related documents

Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects
UN Document A/CONF.192/15

UNICEF pamphlet, “No Guns, Please - We Are Children”
The spread of small arms creates a serious global problem and requires an equally urgent response because the lives and futures of children are at stake.
UNICEF pamphlet, “No Guns, Please - We Are Children” [pdf]

United Nations IASC Programme of Action to Address the Human Cost of SALW
The uncontrolled trade in small arms and light weapons is a matter of life and death to people around the world. So devastating is
the impact of these weapons, they are now considered one of the major obstacles to achieving sustainable human development.
United Nations IASC Programme of Action to Address the Human Cost of SALW [pdf]

“Putting Children First:  Building a Framework for International Action to Address the Impact of Small arms on Children”
The United Nations 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects and the UN Special Session on Children provide unique opportunities to examine the complex issues surrounding small arms and their impact on children, in particular, how the presence, proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons affect the
lives of children.
“Putting Children First:  Building a Framework for International Action to Address the Impact of Small arms on Children” [pdf]

"Putting Guns in Their Place"
Putting guns in their place aims to provide a primer on the human cost of small arms availability and misuse and recommendations for action in the lead up to the 2006 UN Conference on small arms.
"Putting Guns in Their Place" [pdf]

No Guns Please, We Are Children
This booklet lays out the guiding principles in the campaign against small arms and light weapons and details UNICEF's efforts.
[PDF]



Related links


These links open in a new window and will take you to a non-UNICEF web site.

International Action Network on Small Arms - IANSA
IANSA is the global network of civil society organisations working to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
[Web page]

Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfer - NISAT
'NISAT’s aim is to combine the resources and networks of its partner organisations to help block the spread of small arms to areas where they are likely to produce conflict, violence and human rights abuses.'
[Web page]

Taking Aim at Small Arms
Sponsored by the permanent mission of the Principality of Andorra to the United Nations and produced by UNICEF, 'Taking Aim at Small Arms' is a web based small arms exhibit, highlighting the plight of children and making a call to stop the use of children as soldiers and to keep children safe from guns.
[Web page]

Gun Control Network
'The Gun Control Network was established to campaign for tighter controls on guns of all kinds and a greater awareness of the dangers associated with gun ownership and use.'
[Web page]

Small Arms Survey
'The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland. It serves as the principle international source of public information on all aspects of small arms, and as a resource centre for governments, policy makers, researchers, and activists.'
[Web page]




 

 

What are small arms?

...hand-guns, grenades and landmines have terrorised people during wars and after. One half billion light weapons are cirulating throughout the world - one for every 12 people...these arms are cheap, readily available, and easy to use. An AK-47 (Kalashnikov) assault rifle costs as little as the price of a chicken in Uganda or a bag of maize in Mozambique. Small arms and light weapons are used in internal conflicts, crime and violence. They are associated with murder, suicide, injury, psychosocial trauma, assault, robbery and rape. Their widespread availability leads to the militarisation of society, and undermines post-war reconstruction. See the web site Taking Aim at Small Arms.
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