UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the open debate of the Security Council on Children and armed conflict

As prepared for delivery

28 June 2021
Gaza. A girl stands next to a damaged building.
UNICEF/UN0464417/El Baba

NEW YORK, 28 June 2021 - "President Kaljulaid, Secretary-General Guterres, excellencies and colleagues.

"UNICEF thanks President Kaljulaid for convening this debate — and for Estonia’s continued support to children affected by armed conflict.

"And we thank the Secretary-General and Special Representative Gamba for their ongoing commitment to protect these young lives.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for children around the world.

"But especially for the children living through the horrors of conflict.

"For the children living through the 21 conflicts outlined in the report, the challenges of daily life under COVID-19 are magnified. 

"School closures. Increased risks of violence and abuse under lockdowns. Mental health impacts and being separated from their friends and peers. Negative coping mechanisms like child marriage and child labour. All against the backdrop of protracted conflicts and a global socio-economic crisis that threatens to roll back decades of progress and increase the risk of recruitment and use of children.

"We had hoped that parties to conflict would turn their attention from fighting each other, to fighting the virus. That’s why UNICEF joined the Secretary-General in calling for a global ceasefire. 

"Sadly, as this annual report shows, this call went unheeded.

"Parties to conflict did not lay down their arms.

"They did not stop fighting.

"They did not allow a sufficient level of humanitarian access so our agencies and partners can reach these children in need.

"And lockdowns and travel constraints made the already challenging work of supporting these children all the more difficult.

"Affecting our ability to reach children with lifesaving support.

"Constraining our work to release children from the ranks of armed groups.

"And slowing our efforts to trace and reunify children with their families and begin the long process of reintegration.

"The children trapped within these emergencies paid a high price.

"The UN verified grave violations against over 19,000 children in humanitarian situations last year, many of whom were subjected to more than one violation of their rights. Thousands of children killed or maimed. Recruited and used in the fighting. Abducted, sexually abused and exploited.

"On average, over the last five years, the UN has verified at least 70 children every day who experienced grave rights violations.

"The actual numbers are much higher. Each case is another sad addition to the more than one-quarter million violations recorded since the monitoring mechanism began.

"While our agencies are doing all that we can to prevent these violations and protect children, we urgently need the support of Member States, partners and this Council in four key areas.

"First — we urge this Council to give this issue the priority it deserves in your decisions and deliberations.

"Surely, if there is one priority around which all states can rally behind, it must be the protection of children.

"And despite political differences, your Council has managed to shape an overall framework for compliance with international law and accountability to end these violations — including through the resolutions, statements, and the Working Group dedicated to this issue. 

"We urge you to continue placing this issue at the centre of your peace and security work every day, and to support our call to all Member States to endorse and implement the Paris Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration.

"Second — we call on states and on all parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

"Last year, explosive weapons and remnants of war were responsible for nearly half of all verified child casualties.

"They were used to attack schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation facilities. All of the vital systems upon which people depend. All vital to preventing epidemics, hunger and disease and specifically critical for children.  

"And they are a huge driver of displacement — causing children and families to flee their homes because of the constant danger.

"We call on all Member States to follow the lead of Ireland and others and make an unequivocal political commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

"Doing so would have an immediate and positive effect on the safety and futures of millions of children living through conflict and post-conflict.

"Third — we call on Member States to invest in women and girls and prevent gender-based violence in conflict.

"The Secretary-General’s report shows a staggering increase in verified cases of rape, sexual violence and abduction. Girls were not only the victims of one-quarter of all violations — they represented 98 per cent of the victims of rape and sexual violence.

"While our organizations are doing all we can to prevent and respond to these horrifying violations against girls, we need Member States to take all action possible, including to dramatically increase investment in the capacities of frontline responders — especially women and girl-led organizations.

"And fourth — we call on Member States to help us increase child protection capacity across the board.

"We thank Estonia for highlighting this issue, in particular. Because without increased investment and capacity, UNICEF and our UN and NGO partners cannot document cases, engage with parties to conflict, or support children and families to the extent needed.

"Many frontline workers put their lives on the line to support these children…to listen to and document their experiences…and to carry these findings back to the world — and to this Council — so we can shape our responses accordingly.

"This work is absolutely critical to negotiating and implementing the action plans supported by the UN — now 17 in total.

"And it gives UN leadership and child protection staff the information and data they need to respond. From providing prosthetics to children who have lost limbs. To reuniting children with their families. To reintegrating children into their communities with mental health support. To counselling girls who have been raped, so they can deal with the trauma they’ve endured.

"We need Member States to bolster this vital, lifesaving work by supporting the frontline workers who risk their lives to do it, each and every day.

"Council Members — this new report demonstrates how far we’ve come in understanding the devastating impact conflicts have on children.

"But it also shows how little progress the world has made in protecting children from the scourge of war since Graca Machel’s groundbreaking report 25 years ago.

"Conflicts are longer. They are increasingly complex. And the impacts on children and young people continue to devastate futures.

"Each violation against children — reported or unreported — represents a stain on our humanity. And on our ability, as a world, to fulfill a basic function — to protect and care for the youngest and most vulnerable people in our world. And to match their bravery and resilience with our best efforts.

"Children and young people bear no responsibility for conflict. And yet they bear the deepest scars. They pay the highest price.

"Through decisive political action and increased investment in the humanitarian heroes who are supporting these young lives in the midst of violence and war, we can begin to turn this around — through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

"UNICEF stands ready to support these efforts in any way we can, and we will continue working with partners like Estonia to shine a light on this issue. Thank you.

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