Information
Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

Home | UNICEF in Action | Highlights | Information Resources | Donations, Greeting Cards & Gifts | Press Centre | Voices of Youth | About UNICEF

A personal note from Graça Machel

Photo

In 1994, Graça Machel's reputation as an educator and children's champion led United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to name her the Expert in charge of producing a ground-breaking report on the impact of armed conflict on childrenI. The report was requested in late 1993 by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the General Assembly. Ms. Machel served as Mozambique's first post-independence Minister for Education and within 10 years, school enrolment had doubled to over 80 per cent of school-age children. She continues to be active in reconstruction and development initiatives in Mozambique. She is President of the Foundation of Community Development and Chairperson of the National Organization of Children of Mozambique. She has worked closely with many UN organizations and was awarded the 1995 Nansen Medal in recognition of her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children. She is the widow of the country's first President, Samora Machel, killed in an airplane crash in 1986.

I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to report on a topic that I believe is of fundamental importance to humanity. In the past decade, 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict. Three times as many have been seriously injured or permanently disabled. Millions of others have been forced to witness or even take part in horrifying acts of violence. It is impossible to give accurate statistics on this carnage. The conservative estimates available hide the numbers of children whose murders are concealed and remain unrecorded, who are erased from the memory of humankind when whole families and communities are wiped out. Yet it is clear that increasingly, children are targets, not incidental casualties, of armed conflict.

I come from a culture where traditionally, children are seen as both our present and our future, so I have always believed it is our responsibility as adults to give children futures worth having. In the two years spent on this report, I have been shocked and angered to see how shamefully we have failed in this responsibility.

In some countries, conflicts have raged for so long that children have grown into adults without ever knowing peace. I have spoken to a child who was raped by soldiers when she was just nine years old. I have witnessed the anguish of a mother who saw her children blown to pieces by land-mines in their fields, just when she believed they had made it home safely after the war. I have listened to children forced to watch while their families were brutally slaughtered. I have heard the bitter remorse of 15-year-old ex-soldiers mourning their lost childhood and innocence, and I have been chilled listening to children who have been so manipulated by adults and so corrupted by their experiences of conflict that they could not recognize the evil of which they had been a part. These are the stories behind the figures given in this report figures of such magnitude that they often hide the impact of these horrors on each child, each family, each community.


Photo: Graça Machel, the United Nations Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, hears one boy's experience in Sierra Leone's civil war. As part of her two-year study, Ms. Machel visited countries in the midst of, or emerging from, armed conflict, and met not just with officials but also with children and their families. ©


This report has given me the opportunity to learn about more than just the brutality of armed conflict, however. In Lebanon, I visited the site of an 'education for peace' project set up by children, with support from UNICEF. Where only months before there had been division, bitterness and hatred between communities, I found a group of teenagers interacting positively, exchanging experiences. These teenagers have managed to build bridges of communication where so many adults had failed. Hundreds of youth volunteers, many of them former militia members, have been mobilized as militants for peace. Those children understand that preventing the conflicts of tomorrow means changing the mind-set of youth today.

I have learned that despite being targets in contemporary armed conflicts, despite the brutality shown towards them and the failure of adults to nurture and protect them, children are both our reason to eliminate the worst aspects of armed conflict and our best hope of succeeding in that charge. In a disparate world, children are a unifying force capable of bringing us all together in support of a common ethic.

This was demonstrated repeatedly in the interactive, consultative process of research and mobilization that led to this report, involving all elements of civil society, and in particular, women and children, communities, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, governments and regional organizations.

In particular, six regional consultations were held: in Asia and the Pacific, Eastern and Southern Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and West and Central Africa. Field visits were made to several areas affected by armed conflicts: Angola, Cambodia, Colombia, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Rwanda (and refugee camps in Tanzania and Zaire), Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia. There I met with officials and with children and their families to ensure that the final report reflects the immediate concerns of the people most directly affected. More than 20 thematic research papers and workshops were specially commissioned as background materials. The report greatly benefited from the input of a group of eminent persons including Belisario Betancur (Colombia), Francis Deng (Sudan), Marian Wright Edelman (USA), Devaki Jain (India), Julius K. Nyerere (Tanzania), Lisbet Palme (Sweden), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (South Africa). Additional guidance came from a group of technical advisers representing diverse professional, political, religious and cultural backgrounds, and I received key support from the UN Centre for Human Rights, UNICEF and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

As a result, this report is undoubtedly a collaborative effort and only one part of a larger global movement to protect the rights of children as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child . The report is complementary to the work of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, NGOs and UN agencies working in the areas of human rights, humanitarian assistance and development, whose concern has helped create space for political and social mobilization at local, national and international levels.

Above all else, this process has strengthened my conviction that we must do anything and everything to protect children, to give them priority and a better future. This report is a call to action and a call to embrace a new morality that puts children where they belong at the heart of all agendas. Protecting children from the impact of armed conflict is everyone's responsibility governments, international organizations and every element of civil society. Therefore my challenge to each of you reading this report is that you ask yourself what you can do to make a difference. And then take that action, no matter how large or how small. For our children have a right to peace.

| Main | Next |


Home | UNICEF in Action | Highlights | Information Resources | Donations, Greeting Cards & Gifts | Press Centre | Voices of Youth | About UNICEF