Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at the Child Forum at Fryshuset
Stockholm, 22 March 2018. Check against delivery.
What an honour to be with you here today. I'm speaking to all of you children in particular. I have looked forward to hearing about your experiences and ideas. I know that you have been working hard for this Child Forum. It is going to be fantastic to share this day with you.
I would also like to welcome our guests here today: the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire and, of course, all other participants at this Child Forum.
Children should never have to experience war. Children have every right to be children, to choose their own interests, to go to school, have friends and play. But the world does not look like that. More than 250 million children around the world are affected by war and conflict. The children you just saw in the film are just a few of them. Wars and conflicts also displace many children and their families. Approximately half of all displaced people are children.
Children continue to be used as child soldiers in wars and conflicts. Children can be subjected to sexual violence and can also be deprived of their liberty. We see how schools, hospitals and housing areas are bombed and destroyed. Some of you have perhaps come into contact with war and conflict on the news, some may have your own experiences and others may have parents, friends or neighbours who have fled their homes because of war.
War is a catastrophe for people and societies, and children are often affected worst. This is why we have chosen to work with children and armed conflict in particular.
Sweden has long worked on children's rights, both at home, in the UN and EU. I know that this work can seem very slow, considering how many children are affected. But quite a lot is being done. We are cooperating within the UN, with child rights organisations and with individuals to safeguard rights and increase protection for children.
A positive example is the 120 000 or so child soldiers who have been released. It is important that they are allowed to return to their families and communities, that the children receive the support and help they need to make up for their lost childhood.
In the United Nations Security Council, a special group is working on children and armed conflict. During its time on the Security Council, 2017–2018, Sweden is chair of this group. Last year alone, this working group, under Sweden's leadership, successfully drafted concrete recommendations for five countries in conflict – Colombia, Somalia, Sudan, the Philippines and Nigeria.
Sweden also led a visit of Security Council members to Sudan to discuss how the Government there can best prevent children from being recruited as child soldiers.
We have gathered here today to listen to you. Your thoughts and your experiences are valuable for us and our work here in Sweden, and across the world. For more than a month now, you have learned about what Sweden is doing around the world, in the UN, and about children and armed conflict.
You have had contact with children in war-torn areas. So it is time to listen to your experiences, your needs and your dreams so that we politicians can make the right decisions. You children have a lot of wise words to say to us adults. Your voices must be heard.
You have looked at four areas in which Sweden is working to protect children in armed conflicts:
• work in the UN;
• children's right to have their voices heard;
• children's right to education; and
• children's right to health, including mental health.
And also here at home at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs we are working all the time on the basis of these four areas. In the autumn, Sweden organised children consultations, like the one you have today, in Beirut, Lebanon, and in Bogotá, Colombia. The focus then was refugee children and children in peace negotiations.
I will take your proposals with me to the UN Security Council when I travel to New York in July during the Swedish presidency. But, as you know, it can take time to change the world and we must therefore start by sowing the seeds of change. I like to say that in politics you not only need to have a lot of courage, but quite a lot of patience.
We will continue to fight for children's rights, not least for children who are affected by conflict.
We adults have a responsibility to protect you, so that you can protect us in the future.
Thank you for your kind attention.