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SC Arria: Children and armed conflict - repatriation of children from conflict zones

Statement by Ambassador Mona Juul at the Arria-formula meeting on Children and armed conflict - repatriation of children from conflict zones, 29 January 2021.

Norway would like to thank the organisers of this event for shedding light on a complex and important issue.

Protection of civilians, including the protection of children, is a priority for Norway and we aim to make it a crosscutting issue on the Council’s agenda. We are honoured to chair the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

Children caught in conflict zones are extremely vulnerable and at heightened risk of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, early and forced marriage as well as recruitment and use in armed conflict.

We would like to stress that International law recognises children recruited and used in armed conflict primarily as victims requiring rehabilitation and social reintegration.

Children are often doubly victimised: first by the armed forces or groups attacking their homes and schools, recruiting or abducting them, and then by their government treating them as criminals and security threats. Children are detained, subjected to torture, and held in horrific conditions.

We recall that detention should be used only for the shortest period and as a measure of last resort. Alternatives should be actively be sought. Holistic, community-based reintegration programmes are key.

Unfortunately, there is a significant gap in resources and a lack of interagency cooperation. The Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers plays a significant role in remedying this situation.

We would like to highlight the right to education, for girls in particular. Safe access to education is both protective and preventive. Education alleviates the psychological impact of armed conflict, anchors children in their communities and provides hope for the future.

This is why Norway gives high priority to education in emergencies, including protection of education against attack during armed conflict. We encourage all states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.

Finally, the Norwegian government is concerned with the situation of children living in conflict-affected areas. We are particularly worried about the children living in camps in North East Syria.

This is however an area full of dilemmas and there are no simple solutions. Each state faces a specific set of political constraints and legal requirements.

On two occasions, we have brought Norwegian children home on a humanitarian basis. Norwegian authorities cannot repatriate children without consent from their parents or guardians.

The very difficult humanitarian situation these children face, makes it important to find solutions. We therefore work closely with key partners, including the Office of SRSG Gamba, the ICRC and UNICEF.

To conclude, there are no alternatives to international cooperation in addressing such complex challenges. We must work together to meet these challenges that are in the best interest of children while protecting their rights.