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SC: Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jens Frølich Holte in the UN Security Council meeting on Children and Armed Conflict, 28 June 2021.

Thank you, Madam President, for hosting this year’s annual debate on children and armed conflict. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General and Executive Director Fore as well as Mr. Laban Onisimus from Plan International Nigeria and Mr. Forest Whitaker for their statements.

Earlier this year, we asked children in Norway what they think is the most important issue for the Security Council. One child said ‘to work for peace and children’s rights. Another stated that all children must be able to attend school, also during war, and have a safe childhood. I couldn’t agree more. This underscores why protection of civilians is one of Norway’s main priorities for its term on the Security Council. Since we took our seat on the Council, we have worked to make protection of children in conflict a cross-cutting issue on its agenda.  

We are approaching the 25th anniversary of the mandate on children and armed conflict. Those who were children when the mandate was adopted, have long since become adults. Protecting children from the devastating effects of conflict is more important than ever. We must act now to prevent new cycles of conflict and build sustainable peace.

To succeed, we must work to ensure that the mandate shapes the behaviour of state and non-state actors to end and prevent violations against children. This requires dialogue with parties to conflict and commitments that translate into concrete action. We thank the SRSG and the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism for their untiring work. Norway, including as member of the Council, reaffirms our strong support for the mandate. As chair of the CAAC working Group we are committed to strengthening the partnership with the SRSG on children and armed conflict. 

The Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict clearly shows the devastating impact war and conflict have on children. In many ways, childhood is the first victim of war. The UN has verified a total of 26,425 grave violations against children in 2020. The highest numbers of violations were the recruitment and use of children, followed by the killing and maiming of children. Verified cases of abduction and sexual violence against children increased alarmingly by 90 and 70 per cent, respectively. This in a year that access for monitoring has been hampered by the pandemic.  

The pandemic has made the vulnerable even more vulnerable. It has severely magnified the risks children face and increased their need for protection. And it is threatening to undo the gains made in the protection of children in conflict. 

For example,

  • Loss of family income, closure of schools and disruption of protection activities have left children more exposed to recruitment and use by armed forces and groups, as well as to sexual violence.
  • Progress achieved onrelease and reintegration programmes for children associated with armed forces and groups has been reversed, and ill-treatment in detention has increased.

Violations against children are always unacceptable and these trends are deeply concerning.

We must have the facts to be able to respond adequately. Therefore, the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism must be given full access, and the political and financial support it needs.

Maintaining the independence, impartiality and credibility of the mandate is crucial. The criteria applied in listing and delisting decisions must be objective.  

We must ensure that child protection provisions and operational capacity are included in mandates all relevant of United Nations peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

President,

Norway strongly condemns the continued attacks against schools and hospitals. We are also concerned about the increased use of schools for military purposes. We know that attacks and insecurity have resulted in the closure of thousands of schools, and denied millions of children education.  The civilian character of schools and hospitals must be respected. These attacks deprive children of their rights to health and education, and of the protective environment that schools should normally provide. This has long-term negative consequences for children and their communities. 

Norway would like to emphasise the invaluable role of educational institutions. Schools and universities reflect the past, present and future of a community; they are vital to individuals and to societies, economies, and cultures. They are part of the social framework that can support people through crises. They provide individuals with a lifelong foundation, for no one can deprive you of what you have learned while attending school. With education comes dignity.  People affected by conflict consistently identify safe access to education for their children as a priority. Protecting these institutions is essential to achieving peace and security and has a firm place on the Council’s agenda. We must do more to safeguard educational institutions from military use and attacks, and we must invest more in education in situations of crisis and conflict. Norway urges all countries to join the 109 states, 10 of which are on this Council, that have endorsed and are working together to implement the Safe Schools Declaration.

Norway has been a long-standing advocate for treating children recruited and used in armed conflict, including children associated with armed groups and terrorist organisations, primarily as victims. We urge Member States to treat these children in line with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We also call on all states who have not yet done so, to ratify the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict, and to endorse the Paris Principles.

The Secretary-General has put forth a number of recommendations in his report. Norway supports these and urges all states, parties, and other relevant actors to implement them along with the conclusions agreed in the Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict (WGCAAC).

Children living in conflict have no time to lose. Their childhood and our common future is at stake.  Let’s join forces and act now to ensure a better life for the millions of children living in armed conflict.

Thank you.