The egregious violence against children must stop. Full protection of children in war zones was the outcry of several United Nations officials during an all-day open debate at the Security Council held on June 18. The session, arranged by Malaysia’s foreign minister, Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman and attended, among others, by Italian minister for Foreign Affairs, Paolo Gentiloni, was a call for increased preventive and corrective action, focusing on the fact that the escalation of several conflicts in 2015 has further imposed appalling short- and long-term consequences for the estimated 230 million children caught in the midst of violence, including the more than five million refugee children that have been forced to flee.
The concept note provided by the Malaysian presidency stated that despite a somewhat regular flow of progress, with the release of some children by armed groups, there has still been a noticeable increase in grave violations committed against children. Therefore, through a unanimous vote, the Security Council has adopted Resolution 2225 (2015) urging an end to impunity for crimes against children in armed conflict and calling for the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all abducted children. The resolution also called for the implementation of concrete, time-bound action plans to halt all violations that render children as targets of attack. It also highlighted that Member States and their military commanders would remain accountable for any violence against children. This measure would be one of the major steps in preventing atrocities against minors who are being affected.
In his statement, Paolo Gentiloni highlighted Italy's efforts to tackle the problem: “Some 14 million children have been impacted by conflict in Syria and Iraq, according to UNICEF. Italy pays particular attention to their condition. In 2014, we allocated a total of 2 million euros for projects carried out by UNICEF in support of children in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. These included social and educational activities, through the creation and management of child and family protective facilities. We funded programs, such as 'No Lost Generation Initiative' by UNICEF, aimed at tackling child malnutrition and providing psychological assistance and support for minors and their families. In the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KRG) of Iraq, since January 2015, we have financed UNICEF assistance to young Christian and Yazidi girls, victims of violence.”
Hopes of lessening turmoil in the lives of children in war zones was the intention of the March 2014 launch of a “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign by Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui – in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – as 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in war-torn countries. The effort was also to rouse support from the international community to bring to an end and also hinder any recruitment and use of children by national security forces by 2016. Zerrougui, who also attended the debate, briefed the Council saying, “As conflicts have spread and intensified over the past year, and with appalling impacts on the welfare of children, this should not just shock us. This is a call to action for us all.”
Countries in the height of this monstrosity toward children are Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Israel/the State of Palestine, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen where children were “affected to a degree which is an affront to our common humanity,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated during the debate.
Although the Secretary-General welcomed information that 1,757 children from South Sudan’s Cobra Faction have so far been released, information that during the first three weeks of May, roughly 129 children from the country’s Unity state were killed. In March, 115 children in Yemen have been killed and 172 injured, according to a UNICEF report. One spokesman for the agency said that an assumed 140 children had been recruited by the country’s armed groups between March and April, and 64 children were killed during that same period by air strikes. The large number of abductions by Da’esh and Boko Haram and the overwhelming reports of so many children suffering due to Israeli military operations in Gaza last year, “is unspeakable,” says Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF.
In his response, Ban added that “We have seen crises multiply and intensify, making protection more and more difficult. Protecting children is both a moral imperative and a legal obligation.” He then commented that “a child’s well-being should never be jeopardized by national interests. The facts as presented in this report speak for themselves and should shock our collective conscience.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, who attended the debate to make public her latest report on the traumatic situation children in conflict zones face, highlighted that not only do children get killed during the conflict, but those who remain alive have no support against the attacks from neither parents, other adults nor the justice system.
“This remains a stark reminder of the need to put their [children’s protection] first.” She underlined the fact that since children are particularly vulnerable to violations of their rights and to abuses of all sorts, their access to justice should be facilitated and reinforced as they also face specific barriers owing to their status as minors. Physical barriers, including geographical distance from courts or other relevant institutions or lack of adequate facilities at those institutions’ premises, were one of the obvious hindrances to a minor who is being targeted. Psychological factors can also play an important role in undermining children as they may be unable or reluctant to seek justice because they are too young or too traumatized to articulate what happened to them as they do not perceive the occurrences in their lives as a violation of their rights.
“Every day countless children suffer adverse consequences at the hands of justice systems that disregard or even directly violate their fundamental human rights,” Knaul noted. “It is unacceptable that children are often victimized or re-victimized when they come into contact with the justice system.”