UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at Children & Armed Conflict Luncheon

As prepared for delivery

19 November 2020

NEW YORK, 19 November 2020 -  Excellencies — on behalf of everyone at UNICEF, thank you for the opportunity to join you today.

And congratulations on your upcoming Security Council membership and role on the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. UNICEF values and appreciates the Group’s tireless efforts to protect children affected by conflict.

We also appreciate Ambassador Kridelka for hosting this event — and Belgium for chairing the Working Group this past term, and pushing this agenda forward.

And we thank SRSG Gamba for all her efforts. Her office and UNICEF enjoy a special relationship, and we value and appreciate our close collaboration on this critical agenda.

The issue of children and armed conflict goes right to the heart of UNICEF’s mandate. We proudly co-chair country task forces on monitoring and reporting in 14 countries — and we support this function in an additional seven.

Our staff work shoulder-to-shoulder with our UN colleagues to monitor, document, verify, and report on grave violations against children. We want to give you, the Security Council, the most up-to-date verified information on how armed conflict is affecting children.

We also engage directly with parties to conflict to prevent and end grave violations. This includes developing national action plans, and helping governments strengthen legislation and policies to hold perpetrators accountable.

Last year alone, our dedicated and highly specialized staff worked with our UN partners to verify 25,000 cases of grave violations against children.

You’ll find that it’s easy to be daunted when reading these reports.

But throughout, we must remember the lives behind the statistics.

Each case represents a child. A child who has been killed. A child who has been raped. A child whose school has been attacked. A child who may never have known what it means to be safe…to be protected…to enjoy a normal childhood.

Each case also represents all of the people to whom this child mattered. Family. Friends. Schoolmates. Parents, brothers and sisters.

And each case represents something more — a collective failure to protect the most vulnerable: children. A failure on a massive scale. Because these UN-verified numbers are only the tip of the iceberg — a snapshot of what these children experience in armed conflict.

Our teams on the ground will tell you that the reality for children is far grimmer than our monitoring and reporting mechanism can reflect.

Which is why UNICEF spares no effort to provide programmatic responses for conflict-affected children and their families. Mental health and psychosocial support. Specialized support for survivors of sexual violence. Release and reintegration services. Case management services. Access to justice. And access to basic services like health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education.

But as we monitor, report and respond, we need your help to do something more — to advocate, at every opportunity, with governments and leaders to support the children and armed conflict agenda and forge pathways of peace.

Because the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

We’re seeing a sharp in increase in the number and length of armed conflicts.

We’re seeing an erosion of the respect for the fundamental rules of international law. Something which we must never take for granted.

We’re seeing flagrant targeting of what should be safe havens, like schools and hospitals. Places of learning and healing are now becoming places of danger. This is unacceptable.

And we’re seeing the increased detention of children for association with armed groups. It’s critical that — consistent with Security Council Resolution 2427 — children of all ages who have survived violations, including those who may have committed crimes, be treated primarily as victims.

These rights, norms, and frameworks that form international law are not just words on paper.

They represent our common humanity. They represent morality. They represent a basic compact we have with one another to limit the suffering of war, and protect the most vulnerable. That is our responsibility.

These norms, frameworks and laws are not automatic. They must be defended. They must be strengthened. They must be upheld in every circumstance.

As you carry out your work, you can count on UNICEF’s full-fledged support. And we remain available to brief the Council on the humanitarian impacts of conflict on children — in specific countries and globally.

Let’s work together to put children’s needs first.

And let’s protect them. In every circumstance. Thank you.

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Najwa Mekki
Tel: +1 917 209 1804


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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