Managing Exits from Armed Conflicts

Welcoming remarks by Deputy Permanent Representative Trine Heimerback in the Norway- & Colombia-hosted briefing with UNIDIR on children recruited and used by armed forces and groups, 21 November 2022.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this event on Managing Exits from Armed Conflicts; together with UNIDIR and Colombia.

I would like to start by thanking UNIDIR for their important work and the donors for making this project possible. It is an important field, and more research is needed.

Both as Chair of the Security Council Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict and as Norway the topic of children recruited and used by armed forces and groups is high on our agenda, alongside protection of children more broadly

Every year thousands of children are released from armed forces and groups without any type of security nets. Without protection, support and reintegration programmes, these children have to cope with challenges and trauma from conflict on their own.

They also face stigma. Children who have been recruited or used by armed actors may be viewed with suspicion, or rejected, by their families and communities. This increases therisk of re-recruitment.

Children recruited and used in armed conflict should be treated as victims of violations of international law. This applies to all children, also those who have committed crimes and those who have been associated with armed groups, including terrorist groups; as designated by the UN.

Still, we see that this is often forgotten in practice. Children who have been victimized by armed groups are often revictimized by authorities upon their release. Instead of being handed over to child-protection personnel and reintegrated into society, they are imprisoned, treated as criminals and prosecuted for participation in terrorist activities in military courts.

According to the UN CRC Article 37, imprisonment shall be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Alternatives to detention should always be sought.  Children’s protection, care and needs must be prioritised to ensure that they can be reintegrated into their communities.

In line with Article 39, States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

Reintegration must be holistic, long-term and sustainable. The support-services must be age- and gender sensitive, survivor-centred, and individually tailored. They should also be trauma-informed. Access to quality education, physical and mental healthcare, and psycho-social support is also central for survivors, as well as access to justice and remedies.

The importance of education cannot be overstated in this regard. Education can be a lifesaver. Out of school, children are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed forces and groups. Education can also help children recruited and used in armed conflict reintegrate back into society.

This is why it is so important to protect education in armed conflict. In order to contribute to this important endeavour, Norway negotiated SC Resolution 2601 together with Niger, last year.

Endorsing and implementing the Safe Schools Declaration is also an important measure to this end. I am very happy to congratulate Colombia and my distinguished co-host, Ambassador Sonia Pereira, on the announcement of Colombia’s endorsement last week (Friday).

Norway will remain committed to support this important endeavour. Protection of civilians, including children, has been a priority for Norway during our Security Council tenure, and is also a priority in our Humanitarian Strategy.

I am looking forward to listening to the insights and advice from the project researchers on how we can collaborate to strengthen the reintegration support for children who have been recruited and used in armed conflicts across regions.