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I am speaking on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and my own country Norway.
We are proud to mark the 20th anniversary for the mandate of the SRSG for children in armed conflict, and take this opportunity to acknowledge the achievements in enhancing protection of children in armed conflict.
This anniversary encourages us to do more. Conflicts have a devastating effect on children. We cannot achieve the SDGs unless we protect and assist children and young people affected by armed conflict. Children are subject to grave abuse and violence, and they are the most vulnerable victims of displacement, often separated from their family.
More needs to be done within several fields:
Firstly, on prevention and response to sexual exploitation and abuse: It is an outrage that children are brutalized in this way. When it has happened at the hand of people sent to protect and assist them, by military or civilians in UN service, this is of course completely unacceptable and must be dealt with. The zero tolerance for this within the UN must be implemented. We are encouraged by the Secretary General’s strong stance on this issue.
Secondly, on access to and protection of health and education: The health response in conflict should be even better tailored to the needs of children and youth in their different situations and stages of development. This includes psycho-social support, mental health, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. We should support UNICEF, WHO and others in their efforts to respond to the needs of children who are on the move because of conflict.
37 million children and young people remain out of school because of crises and conflict. Yet, only a small share of humanitarian aid is allocated for education, and we are far from making the longer-term investments required to ensure quality education in protracted crises. We must increase our efforts to uphold the right to education, even in conflict situations.
Attacks on health and education is an increasing problem, affecting children in dramatic ways. This challenges basic humanitarian principles and values, as well as the right of children to access to health care and education. It strikes at the core of the communities, often leads to institutions closing, staff leaving and services stopped. This leaves children vulnerable, deprived of essential health services and education. Furthermore, it drives displacement, recruitment to armed groups, and child labor. The lack of health and education services has long-term effects not only for the child, but also for their communities and beyond.
We must do more to prevent attacks on health and education. Rebuilding and restoring these systems and services after conflict often takes a very long time. In effect, children may be denied their right to education and basic health services for years after a conflict ends.
We would like to reiterate the obligations of parties to conflict under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, in particular when it comes to health, and encourage member states to follow up resolutions on protection of health. Moreover, we would like to encourage member states to support initiatives that lead to better protection of health, including the work of WHO and the health care in danger initiative of the ICRC.
Protecting schools means protecting children. We are encouraged by the SRSGS work in this field, and welcome Argentina’s hosting of the second conference on the Safe Schools declaration in Buenos Aires on 28 to 29 March.
To achieve the SDGs, development polices and plans must better reflect the impact conflict and displacement has on children. Children and young people must also be included in a meaningful way in peacebuilding and development for them to influence their own future and be included as part of their communities.