UNICEF’s change agenda for protecting children in armed conflict
Change is possible. UNICEF calls for action to protect children in war.
We have a choice. It is not inevitable that children are direct targets in conflict, or that indiscriminate attacks against children are a by-product of conflict. Too often, warring parties block and deny life-saving assistance to children. Meanwhile, millions of children are left close to death due to severe acute malnutrition, being forced to drink unsafe water that leaves them more susceptible to outbreaks of deadly diseases, or because they have been forced out of school for their entire childhoods.
It does not have to be this way.
Change is possible. That is why UNICEF issues this call to action to protect children in war. It is a call to warring parties and those with influence over them to fulfil their obligations to children. It is a call to governments, the UN Security Council and other organizations to hold perpetrators of crimes against children to account. And it is a call to people around the world to demand the change that we know is possible.
UNICEF is calling on the world to:
Uphold children’s rights in conflict
All warring parties must fulfil their obligations to protect children and end grave violations against children in times of war, and those with influence should use their power to support warring parties to take steps to do so. This means:
Stopping attacks on children and the services on which they rely. Parties to conflict must:
- End deliberate and indiscriminate attacks that kill and maim children.
- End attacks on education, including attacks on and threats to students, teachers, and schools, as well as the use of schools for military purposes
- End attacks on healthcare, including health workers and hospitals and health facilities
- End attacks on water and sanitation facilities and personnel
Avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas given their disproportionate and especially damaging impact on children
Upholding global commitments to deliver a world free from the threat of landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive device
Ending the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups and ending the detention of children allegedly associated with armed forces or groups
Releasing children associated with armed forces or groups to protective services and supporting reintegration into their communities – including safely repatriating foreign children to their countries of origin, where it is in their best interests to do so.
Ending the abduction of children in conflict
Stopping all sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence against children
Stopping the denial of life-saving humanitarian assistance to children in emergencies and ending attacks on humanitarian workers
Hold perpetrators of child rights violations to account
States, including UN Security Council Members and all with influence, must act to hold the perpetrators of crimes against children to account. Children have rights in conflict, and there are laws and norms that exist to protect them. Failing to uphold these duties is a failure of morality, humanity and leadership.
Keep children and their communities safe and support recovery from the experiences of war
Humanitarian donors must increase their investments in protecting children in conflict; supporting survivors; and monitoring, reporting, and engaging with parties to conflict to end child rights violations. This includes prioritizing mental health and psychosocial support, reintegration, and taking action to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
These steps are vital to protect children and girls at heightened risk of abuse, and to support recovery from the trauma of war.
Work towards inclusive and lasting peace
All parties to conflict should immediately put an end to fighting and work towards lasting and inclusive peace.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire. The international community must support UN-led efforts to broker lasting peace. At a minimum, all parties to conflict must ensure a pause for safe, effective and inclusive COVID-19 vaccine delivery and pandemic response and recovery efforts. All peace talks should therefore ensure the meaningful participation of children and young people – they will live with the consequences for decades to come and are central to a peaceful and prosperous future.
To make this happen, UNICEF needs people around the world to speak up for the rights of children whenever and wherever they can. This means:
- Demanding that their leadership act to prevent attacks and violence against children in war
- Using your influence over governments – and all who have power – to insist children are protected according to international law
- Pressing for peace whenever and wherever possible
Although the plight of children in conflict sometimes feels inevitable, it is not. There are plenty of reasons for hope.
Across the globe, remarkable children and young people persevere, fight for peace, and strive for a better life for them and their communities. We owe it to them to overturn this deadly dereliction of duty and build a future free from harm. We all can make a choice to help make change a reality.. Please join us.