Protecting children today prevents conflicts tomorrow
In Yemen, one child dies every ten minutes because of extreme hunger and disease resulting from conflict. Close to 10 million children remain at risk; bearing the brunt of a crisis that they hold no responsibility for, or control over. In Syria, schools – where children should find safety – are regularly attacked; denying them both education and protection. Six million children in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Millions more are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond. And, despite the fact that over 115,000 children have been released from armed groups since 2000, children continue to be recruited as soldiers and used in conflicts.
Children are the most vulnerable and suffer most from conflict. How they are treated has consequences not only for their own future, but for that of their communities and countries. Sweden has a tradition of working to strengthen the protection of children in conflict, and we are using our membership of the Security Council to further advance this work.
Role of the Security Council's Children and Armed Conflict Working Group
Since joining the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member in January 2017, Sweden has chaired the Council's Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict (WG-CAAC). Established, in 2005, by Security Council resolution 1612, the aim of the Working Group is to review reports on violations and abuses suffered by children affected by armed conflict, review progress in the development and implementation of action plans to protect children signed by those involved in conflicts, and to make recommendations on possible measures in response to abuses against children in times of conflict.
Progress over the last year
As chair of the Working Group, working with members, United Nations' entities as well as concerned countries, real progress has been made over the last 12 months. Under Swedish leadership, the Working Group adopted five conclusions - with concrete recommendations for action - on Colombia, Somalia, Sudan, the Philippines and Nigeria. This is the first time ever that the group has managed to consistently adopt conclusions every two months. These conclusions contain recommendations that drive forward implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict Agenda in individual country contexts. They are also key for accountability and follow up on commitments made by parties to conflict, including on the implementation of action plans to improve the situation for children affected by armed conflict. Some highlights of this year's work in the Working Group include:
The Working Group's conclusions on Colombia highlight how the best interests of the child are incorporated as guiding principles in the Colombia Peace Agreement. This includes recognising that children should always be treated primarily as victims, including those children separated from armed groups. Full implementation of the Colombia peace agreement can serve as a model for the protection of children in other peace processes. The Working Group also stressed the importance of giving due consideration to child protection issues in the early stages of peace talks with another group, ELN.
The crimes committed against children in Somalia, not least by Al-Shabaab, are appalling and children are often caught in the cross-fire. The Working Group's conclusions on Somalia stressed the need for all military action against Al-Shabaab to be conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality. The conclusions also asked donors to support two action plans signed by the Federal Government of Somalia and urged donors to ensure that the programmes they fund in Somalia take into account the rights, specific needs and protection of children in these activities.
The United Nations has long been able to engage with some of the non-state armed groups in the Philippines, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on children affected by armed conflict. In its conclusions on the Philippines, the Working Group noted the good progress that MILF had made on the action plan, signed with the United Nations, to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. In October, MILF was delisted from the annex of the Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.
In the parts of Nigeria affected by armed conflict, high numbers of children are recruited, killed and maimed as well as suffering rape and other sexual violence. The terrorist group, Boko Haram, has used children as human shields and suicide bombers and targeted schools as a distinct tactic. Nigeria is, nonetheless, a good example of how the Working Group can meaningfully engage with the countries on its agenda. In this case, the Civilian Joint Task Force signed an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. This positive move was subsequently welcomed in the Working Group's conclusions.
Towards the end of November, 2017, the Working Group, led by Sweden's permanent representative as chair, undertook a visit to Sudan. The visit represented an opportunity to put into practice one of Sweden's priorities, as Chair, to engage concerned countries in constructive dialogue. The Working Group conducted fruitful meetings with Government officials and civil society representatives to discuss better protection measures for children. The group was able to take stock of the encouraging progress made by the Government with the United Nations' support, including ending and preventing the recruitment of child soldiers. The Working Group underlined the need to consolidate the gains, so that systems for addressing the needs of children in armed conflict become the norm across all institutions.
Bringing the issue of Children and Armed Conflict to a wider audience
As Chair of the Working Group, Sweden has also sought to broaden the understanding amongst Council members of the plight of children in conflicts. This includes briefings on the Global Horizontal Note, a quarterly update from the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, that allows the Council members to stay informed on all situations on the Children and Armed Conflict agenda. We have also made it a priority, as Chair, to engage with concerned countries. This has also been our approach in the Security Council, as we believe in talking with countries, not only about them. Over the last year, we met with every concerned country on the Working Group's agenda ahead of negotiations and invited them to brief the Working Group on their efforts. This is also in line with the increased engagement by the Secretary-General and his Special Representative for CAAC, Virginia Gamba. The CAAC agenda is and agenda for accountability and engagement.
Sweden continues to work with all partners, not least with civil society, in our role as Chair of the Working Group and as a member of the Security Council to integrate child protection as a priority in peacekeeping, prevention and sustaining peace. Sweden will also continue to safeguard and defend the integrity of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate.
As a sign of Sweden's long-term commitment to this issue, the Swedish government has appointed Stockholm based Gufran Al-Nadaf as Ambassador for Children and Armed Conflict, in order to further address issues related to this agenda. This is the first appointment of this kind.
Looking forward, Sweden will continue to play its part to protect and improve the lives of children who are caught up in armed conflicts across the conflict cycle. Our efforts, both inside and outside the Security Council, aim to enable children to make their voices heard, to ensure children's right to education and to ensure children's right to health, including mental health and psychological support, in conflict.