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Speech at debate in the UN Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict
Margot Wallström, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, New York, 31 October 2017.
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Let me begin by thanking the Secretary-General and his Special Representative for their important briefings to the Council this morning. I also want to thank the Secretary-General for his Annual Report. We particularly welcome the focus in this year's report on protection and prevention. I also commend the Secretary-General and the Special Representative for their enhanced engagement with the concerned parties.
I would like to pay particular tribute today to Mubin Shaikh for sharing his inspiring story with the Council. It makes a difference to listen to the voices of those who have lived the issues we are discussing here.
As I said in this council on Friday, I visited Afghanistan last week. In Afghanistan, one in three civilian casualties of the conflict is a child. In addition, children continue to be recruited, particularly by armed groups; they remain at risk of sexual violence and are also subject to forced detention.
I want you to imagine a classroom. The teacher has given the class an assignment to 'fill in the blank': I want to be – dot – dot – dot – when I grow up. A doctor? A lawyer? A teacher?
One boy has no answer. A week later, his chair in the classroom is empty. His father had died in the war, and the boy already knew that he would now have to provide for his family by working as a shoe polisher.
There are countless such stories. Some of them, like this one, were captured in a short film by a young film maker who I met in Herat.
And I can assure you, that in every meeting I had in Afghanistan, I was told how children are the ones who suffer most from the conflict.
We all know that this is the case in every conflict. We, the international community, have a responsibility. We must do all in our power to give all children the right to their childhood.
The Secretary-General's report tells us about the shocking scale and severity of violations and abuses against children in armed conflicts around the world. To think of how children have been killed and maimed, recruited and used, as human shields and human bombs, is heartbreaking.
We must not lose this generation of children. How we treat children affected by armed conflict has consequences for their future.
And giving up on them means giving up on their communities, and on the countries they live in.
While we cannot solve all the conflicts on the agenda of the Security Council here and now, we can protect the children that are suffering because of them. The Children and Armed Conflict agenda is a framework for this.
It gives us the tools to prevent all violations and abuses against children and to ensure that perpetrators are held to account. There is a unique consensus within the Council on this agenda, and we should spare no effort in its implementation.
Sweden has a long tradition of working to strengthen the protection of children. As members of the Security Council and as Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict our aim is to advance this work further.
There are a number of areas where we believe there is room for improvement.
Firstly, this Council has heard from child victims of non-state armed groups, including Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Daesh. Their stories, like Mubin's, are shocking.
They have told us of their recruitment as child soldiers; of sexual slavery; of mass abductions. We have a responsibility to act in the face of such attacks to our common humanity.
The first step is to improve our work to prevent human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. This should include violations and abuses by all parties to conflict, including state and non-state armed groups. In this regard we call on those member states that have not yet done so to sign the Paris Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration.
But, we, the international community, must also ensure that our response to these groups in accordance with international law.
Secondly, we should prioritise the effective reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces or armed groups. These children should always be treated primarily as victims. Successful reintegration is in the best interests of the child, but also in the best interest of society as a whole. Children should always be part of the solution, not part of the problem. This was a clear message during this Council's visit to the Lake Chad region.
Thirdly, we should guarantee the right to education and protect schools. This is important in order to prevent conflicts and to build a sustainable peace.
The fourth Sustainable Development Goal underlines the important role of children's education in reducing poverty and inequality. Here, I want to mention girls' access to education in particular.
As the penholder for Children and Armed Conflict we are very pleased that the Council today adopted a Presidential Statement that shows the Council's strong unity behind the Children and Armed Conflict mandate. The Presidential Statement strengthens the Council's stance on many of the issues that I have just raised.
Looking to the future, we will continue to lead on this issue. This includes using the Security Council and our role as Chair of the Working Group as a platform to integrate child protection as a priority in peacekeeping, prevention and the sustaining peace-agenda and to stand up for the integrity of the mandate.
We will also work hard in all of our efforts, both inside and outside the Council, to:
- ensure children's right to education;
- ensure children's right to health, including mental health and psychosocial support, in conflicts; and,
- enable children to make their voice heard.
Protecting children today prevents conflicts tomorrow. When we give children their futures back, we give them the opportunity to realize their dreams. Whether it is to become a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher. By doing so, we put in place the building blocks for peaceful and sustainable societies. The children trapped in armed conflict today have no time to lose, neither should we. It is time for action.