The latest Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict points to some worrying trends in warfare, the targeting and use of schools in conflict – and the need for safe havens, even in conflict.
NEW YORK, United States of America, 20 June 2012 – His face and body are badly burned. He can barely speak. His home in Hama, Syrian Arab Republic, went up in flames when it was hit by a rocket – and the family couldn’t get 4-year-old Adnan out in time.
Safe, if destitute, in a makeshift camp in Lebanon, Adnan lives with constant reminder of the brutal war – his own body, his continuing fear.
“In general, the children are quiet,” says Adnan’s father. “When they hear the sound of a plane or a car, they are scared. Adnan is constantly afraid, especially at night. As soon as the sun goes down, he starts crying.”
“If not for these children, for whom will the Council Act?”
Every year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations issues a report that speaks for children like Adnan. Presenting the 12th annual report on children and armed conflict to the Security Council, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui made a plea for urgent action. “It’s been two years since the conflict in Syria, and yet we are no closer to saving the lives of children,” she said. “Since my last briefing to the Council on children in Syria, scores have been killed, injured, tortured and forced to witness or to commit atrocities. If not for these children, then for whom will this council act?
The latest report on children and armed conflict reviews developments over the past year in 21 conflict-hit countries – countries in which children have been killed, maimed, tortured, sexually assaulted, used as suicide bombers, human shields, cooks and porters. Fifty-five armed forces and groups have been named and shamed for committing grave violations against children, including in Mali, where children were recruited by all armed groups active in the North.
“The evolving nature and tactics of armed conflict have created unprecedented threats for children. The absence of clear frontlines and identifiable opponents and the increasing use of terror tactics have made children more vulnerable,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
The United Nations report highlights new areas of concern, such as the impact of drones on children, children’s detention for alleged association with armed groups and the use of improvised explosive devices in populated areas. “Armed conflicts frequently occur in urban settings when explosive weapons such as artillery, mortars, rockets, improvised explosive devices and aircraft bombs are used in these areas – they kill or injure large numbers of children. These attacks not only have a long-term emotional and psychological impact on children, they also destroy vital infrastructure like roads and power supply,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt told the Security Council.
Last year, targeted attacks against schools and education personnel were reported from Afghanistan, Mali and the Syrian Arab Republic, among others. In several countries, schools were used as military barracks, weapons storage facilities, command centres, detention sites and firing positions.
“UNICEF is deeply concerned by this,” said Ms. Brandt. “It poses great risk to children and educators, it robs children of the opportunity to learn and it violates the right to education…We must preserve schools as places of learning and safe havens for children.
“We are encouraged by the leadership of countries like the Philippines that have restricted the use of schools by its armed forces and continues to strengthen its laws and guidelines,” she said.
Commitments don’t save lives – actions do
Despite the growing challenges, the Secretary-General’s report states that there was marked progress in releasing thousands of children from armed groups in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and the Sudan. More and more governments were brought into the fold with negotiations and action plans to prevent children from being recruited into armed forces.
UNICEF Chief of the Child Protection Division Susan Bissell explains that the protection of children as a sector is relatively new, and the international community made the effects of armed conflict on children a priority only in 2005. “We have two cases of warlords that are discussed in the report that went to the International Criminal Court, and justice was served. So, we have come a long way…and we are setting international precedent here,” she says. “Even in the face of tremendous destruction and changing nature of conflict, we are able to do something to protect children.”
Back at the Security Council, amid talk of action plans, international child rights, task forces and persistent perpetrators, Ms. Brandt made a call to Member States. “Action plans are critical to commit parties in conflict, to halt the violation of children’s rights,” she said. “My call today is that these plans be fully implemented…because commitments don’t save children’s lives – concrete actions do.”
Story by Priyanka Pruthi