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The plight of children in war-time contradicts not just every normal human concern for their welfare but also the professed beliefs and legal obligations of those responsible. It might be easy to dismiss this contradiction as callous hypocrisy. UNICEF sees it rather as a challenge. We believe that insisting on the rights of children is one of the best ways of reasserting core humanitarian values. In the words of Graça Machel, "Despite the inherent brutality of conflict, no one can possibly believe it is ever permissible to murder, rape, torture or enslave children." Nor is it permissible to stand by and allow it to happen.
We do not argue that our Anti-war Agenda is some grandiose initiative to bring peace in our time. We do argue, however, that it is a vital beginning. And what gives it particular legitimacy is the existence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Convention is the guiding force of the Anti-war Agenda and we are determined that warring parties in any conflict be aware of, and be obliged to apply, the protections for children that the Convention provides. We will strive to ensure that the principles of international human rights law are observed to the full when the lives of children are at stakewhatever is needed, be it training of the military in various countries, training for UN peace-keepers or training for international NGOs.
UNICEF believesalong with many colleagues from governments, humanitarian agencies and NGOsthat the following agenda is vital:
The world must no longer wait for the outbreak of hostilities before it pays heed. Much more deliberate effort should be made to address the underlying causes of violence and to invest more resources in mediation and conflict resolution.
In the midst of conflict, specific community-based measures are necessary to monitor the situation and needs of girls and women and especially to ensure their security because of the terrible threat they face of sexual violence and rape. Traumatized girls and women urgently need education and counselling. Because in times of conflict women's economic burdens are greater, access to skills training, credit and other resources must be secured. Education, women's rights legislation and actions to strengthen women's decision-making roles in their families and communities are all needed, both before and after conflicts.
UNICEF believes that the minimum age of recruitment into the military should be 18 years. At present, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is 15 years. The change could be achieved through the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the Convention. Beyond that, there is a great need to concentrate on rehabilitating child soldiers to prevent them from drifting into a life of further violence, crime and hopelessness.
No international law specifically bans the production, use, stockpiling, sale and export of anti-personnel mines. It is now time for such a law. UNICEF joins many other organizations in concluding that this is the only way to stop the endless suffering of children and other civilians. UNICEF will not deal with companies manufacturing or selling land-mines.
Recent years have seen the most barbaric acts of violence against children and other civilians. These must be denounced as they are revealed. International war crimes tribunals must have both the support and the resources to bring perpetrators to justice.
This idea should be pursued more vigorously. The gains from establishing such zones may be fragile and temporary. Nevertheless, zones of peace have become an important part of international diplomacycapable of prising open vital areas of humanitarian space in even the darkest conflicts. As such, UNICEF intends to pursue the possibility that zones of peace be raised to a tenet of international humanitarian law.
Economic sanctions are imposed on the assumption that the long-term benefits of pressure on errant regimes outweigh the immediate cost to children. This may not be the case. There should be a 'child impact assessment' at the point at which any set of sanctions is applied, and constant monitoring thereafter to gauge impact.
In situations of long-term conflict, aid should be seen as part of a process to help rebuild a society's capacity and promote development.
A much more deliberate effort needs to be made to demobilize both adult and child soldiers and rebuild communities so as to offer not just respite but also reconciliation. An important part of rehabilitation must be to address the psychosocial damage that children suffer.
Disputes may be inevitable, but violence is not. To prevent continued cycles of conflict, education must seek to promote peace and tolerance, not fuel hatred and suspicion.
UNICEF is committed to mobilizing whatever resources are necessary in pursuit of these goals wherever conflicts break out. It is the singular characteristic of warfare in our time that children suffer most. But that only makes the task more urgent. Without minimizing the difficulty, we are confident that children's needs can be met even in the midst of the inferno of war. However dreadful the armed conflict, the death and suffering of children cannot be tolerated.
Children need be the victims of war only if there is no will to prevent it. Experiences in dozens of conflicts confirm that extraordinary actions have been taken and can be taken to protect and provide for children. Our Anti-war Agenda is intended to expand the scale and scope of those efforts, and we will direct much of UNICEF's future activities to this all-important end.