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Press centre


Urgent Action for Children on the Brink


New York - 14 January 2003

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Twice in the past year, the voices of children were heard in this chamber. The most recent occasion involved three young delegates to the Children's Forum of the General Assembly Special Session on Children , who appealed to this Council to exercise its power to help save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

"The best thing you could do is stop wars," said Eliza Kantardzic, 13, of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "You are making decisions here that can affect the world. I hope you will hear me."

Mr. President, can there be a more persuasive reason to act than the anguish of these children? If there so, it is hard to imagine. For it is they who represent the succeeding generations that the UN was founded to save - and it is we who have the power to halt the suffering that is endured by so many children in so many countries.

Since the Council's approval of Resolution 1379 a little over a year ago, a series of global commitments have been renewed and strengthened, notably at the Special Session on Children last May, when world leaders pledged to protect children from the ravages of war.

The spirit of global commitment was also much in evidence at the General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001, when the Security Council explicitly recognised HIV/AIDS as a threat to international security, one that not only puts children and women at extraordinary risk in times of conflict, but is sabotaging the future of whole societies.

Under the terms of these commitments, governments have pledged to ensure that children do not grow up in displacement camps without access to nutrition, health care and education; that they are not recruited into armed forces and groups, and that those who subject children to violence and abuse be held accountable.

Mr. President, in the last year, the Council has acquired a new and important mechanism for generating public scrutiny of those who recruit and use children in armed conflict. I refer to the Secretary-General's list of parties to armed conflict. UNICEF is convinced that the naming and shaming of these parties to conflict will help establish a culture of accountability, one that can prevent such abuses from occurring in the future.

That is why UNICEF urges Council Members to consider the Secretary-General's list in all their deliberations - and to update it regularly, expanding its scope to include parties to armed conflict in situations not now on the Council's agenda. For the list can be used not only to pressure those who violate children's rights, but also to support and encourage progress and to measure our steps forward.

For our part, UNICEF will use the list to intensify our advocacy efforts, both globally and locally. It is a key that can open the door to negotiations and dialogue - and, ultimately, to the demobilisation and reintegration of children. We are already working with a number of parties on the list - including Burundi, where UNICEF has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to demobilise children from the ranks of its armed forces.

UNICEF welcomes all the contributions of civil society to this effort. For example, the Report prepared by the NGO Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has provided an additional tool for advocacy work.

The NGO Coalition Report shows the importance of providing information to the Council about the impact of conflict on children - information that comes not only from UN sources, but from diverse sectors of civil society, including children and young people themselves.

Mr. President, the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers is a top priority for UNICEF and its partners because it is key to breaking the cycle of violence against children during conflict. This is equally true after peace agreements, which must of necessity include specific commitments to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate children used in hostilities.

In Sri Lanka, where I intend to travel soon, we think there is an opportunity for a large-scale demobilisation of child soldiers - and UNICEF is working with the Government and non-state actors to secure the release of children recruited by pro-secessionist guerrillas.

In the Great Lakes area of central Africa, UNICEF is taking a regional approach, working in partnership with the World Bank, other UN agencies, donor governments and regional officials to develop a Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP).

In Angola, there is an urgent need to provide support to an estimated 8,000 children who were recruited during the civil war and have been released without a formal demobilisation exercise. In response, UNICEF is working to build support for these children's reintegration into communities, and to provide health care and schooling.

Mr. President, at any given time, an estimated 300,000 children across the globe are serving as child soldiers. They are living proof of the world's systemic failure to protect children - and why UNICEF's work is focused on building a protective environment for children, one that safeguards them from exploitation and abuse.

A protective environment for demobilised child soldiers must include effective strategies to prevent their re-recruitment and that help lay the groundwork for their eventual return to their families and communities. From UNICEF's perspective, this will involve long-term investment in education, vocational training, and support for families and communities that takes into account the specific needs of girls.

Mr. President, over the last year, we have heard allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced children and women in West Africa by humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel. Those allegations were more than shocking. They served as a wake-up call for the entire humanitarian community. The message was simple: that our efforts to protect children and women in such circumstances have been inadequate.

While the first reports of these outrages came from West Africa, we know that no region or country is immune. And make no mistake - this is an issue that poses an ongoing challenge for the entire UN community. While sexual exploitation and abuse are always egregious, the involvement of aid workers or peacekeepers is intolerable.

The most encouraging news has been the swift response by the entire humanitarian community - with strong UN support and leadership. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation, of which UNICEF is a co-chair, has taken immediate steps to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse. Its Plan of Action, endorsed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, calls for the adoption of six core principles for a code of conduct that describes minimum standards of behaviour for all humanitarian and UN workers.

Training in programming to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises has been completed in West Africa and Southern Africa - and will be initiated in all other regions later this year.

In this connection, Mr. President, I call on the Security Council to follow up on your recent Presidential Statement on the Protection of Civilians, in which you encouraged States, in particular troop-contributing countries, to adopt the six core principles to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation.

It is vital that the UN System and those countries that contribute troops for peacekeeping operations are mobilised to protect children and women - and that they develop appropriate disciplinary and accountability mechanisms.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: this meeting will soon be over, and you will move on to other important issues that demand your attention. Much has been achieved in your deliberations over the last four years - and for that we thank you. But more, much more, is required if we are to make the protection of children an explicit priority in actions to build peace and resolve conflict.

Over the years, responsible adults the world over have made good-faith promises to children. Promises to ease suffering and end exploitation - and to protect children from the loss of childhood, from rape and mutilation and recruitment as child soldiers.

Yet time and time again - in such places as Rwanda, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and East Timor - cruelty and indifference has prevailed.

We need to do more about accountability and impunity and training. We must find effective ways to promote peacebuilding and conflict prevention. And we must recognise that when it comes to the suffering of children in conflict, all of us are accountable.

For now, UNICEF's expectation is that you never cease to find ways to ensure that your words become deeds - deeds that make a real difference to the lives of children.

Thank you.



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