Speaking in Beirut – Children and Armed Conflict

Gufran Al-Nadaf, Swedish Ambassador for Children and Armed Conflict, Beirut, 31 October 2017.

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Dear Children, welcome and thank you for joining us today.

Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great joy and honour for me to be back in Lebanon. I have previously worked with this country and have visited this amazing city several times. I would like to thank the Swedish Embassy for their support and participation today. I would also like to express my gratitude to Save the Children, for remarkably planning and conducting this symposium. Last but not least I would like to extend my thanks to H E Minister of social affairs of Lebanon for the patronage and participation.
Some 250 million children are affected globally by armed conflict.

Broken families, loss of homes, death, injury from land mines or bombs, ruined schools and kidnappings are just a few of its effects. Armed conflict results in injured children, orphaned children and displaced children. Often children drop out of school and, in the worst case scenario, end up in trafficking situations.

The world's conflicts have resulted in 22.5 million refugees globally out of 65.6 million forcibly displaced people. Many of the countries in this region are hosting a significant proportion of these refugees. For example Iraq today is host to approximately 262 000 registered refugees; Jordan is host to 686 000 refugees and Lebanon 1 million refugees. Half these refugees are children.

Against this background, we have gathered here today to talk about the following three themes:

- children's right to be heard and participate;
- children's right to protection (psychosocial wellbeing, including violence, early marriage, abuse and mental health); and
- children's right to education.

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A 12-year-old boy once gave a clear explanation of something important that we adults would do well to remember: "Children can change the world if they are given a chance. We must fight for that chance."
Dear Children, we adults need to understand your perspectives and thoughts. We need to understand your dreams, visions and hopes for the future. To do this we must listen to you. A 14-year-old refugee girl living in an area of armed conflict once said: "Everything is determined by fate, and each of us receives our own destiny, but it is the parents who decide the destiny of their children."

This young girl's parents chose to marry her off in order to secure her safety. To ensure their children's protection while refugees in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, parents sometimes choose to marry off both their sons and daughters, even though they are under 18 years of age. Parents must feel that there is better protection for their children in humanitarian crises so they do not feel the need to marry their children off in order to secure their safety.

Bakr, a 10-year-old boy and refugee from Syria, once said: "I miss my friends, I miss my teachers and I just miss learning a lot of things. Now I cannot wait to start school again."

Just like many other children in the region, Bakr lost his schooling due to armed conflict. We do not want to have an entire generation of children without an education; it is important that we work together to ensure that children can go to school.

Sweden is strongly committed to children affected by armed conflict. Our international efforts are based on the protection of children, respect for international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are working to ensure that the United Nations Security Council hears your voices and shares in your thoughts, your stories and your experiences. As we speak the Security Council will today hold the annual open debate on Children and armed Conflict. My Minister, Ms. Margot Wallström, is today in New York and she is aware of our symposium today.

During the two years Sweden has been given the privilege of chairing the Security Council Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict, we have identified four areas we will focus on: the implementation of the UN's Children and Armed Conflict Agenda; children's right to be heard; children's right to education; and children's right to health, including mental health. Today, we are focusing on you, dear children, and have gathered here to listen to you. It is our responsibility to protect you and pay attention to you.

Thank you.