Global perspective Human stories

Terror tactics making children more vulnerable during conflict – UN officials

Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (left) addresses the Security Council. On her left is Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (left) addresses the Security Council. On her left is Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

Terror tactics making children more vulnerable during conflict – UN officials

The evolving nature and tactics of conflict are creating unprecedented threats for children, United Nations officials told the Security Council today, stressing that despite progress in protecting youngsters during war, dangerous new trends are making them even more vulnerable.

“As new conflicts emerged or deepened in the course of the past 18 months, children continued to pay a heavy toll, perhaps the heaviest,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui said in her presentation to the Council of the Secretary-General’s 12th annual report on the subject.

“The absence of clear frontlines and identifiable opponents and the increasing use of terror tactics have made children more vulnerable.”

Ms. Zerrougui added that, as in previous years, the majority of parties recruiting children are non-State actors, and stressed the importance of finding innovative ways to address this issue.

The report reviews situations in 21 countries, as well as the regional conflict involving the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whose activities impact children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.

The report also “names and shames” parties that engage in the recruitment and use of children, sexual violence against children, the killing and maiming of children in contravention of international law, recurrent attacks on schools and/or hospitals or recurrent attacks or threats of attack against protected personnel.

Mali was included for the first time in the report, as children were recruited by all armed groups active in the country’s North, where fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and which was later occupied by radical Islamists. The country is now in a transition and stabilization phase.

Ms. Zerrougui said that her Office had received reports that children were also being recruited by pro-Government militias to perform various tasks, including participating in combat. “It is crucial to ensure that no children are integrated in the regular armed forces or forgotten in the reintegration process and that measure to prevent the recruitment of children be put in place,” she said. “I call upon the Malian authorities to treat these children in line with international standards.”

The CAR and Syria were also highlighted in the report as countries where conflict is having a disproportionate amount of impact.

The Special Representative underlined new areas of concern that need to be urgently addressed, including “the military use of schools, detention of children for alleged association with armed groups and the impact of drones on children.”

In spite of new challenges, progress has continued, Ms. Zerrougui said, pointing that all armed forces listed in the report for recruitment and use of children have entered into an action plan process with the UN to end violations against children. She added that her Office will be launching a campaign to galvanize efforts to end children’s association with States armed forces in armed conflict by 2016.

Also addressing the Security Council, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Yoka Brandt emphasized the physical and psychological effect of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on children, adding that these attacks also destroy vital infrastructure for their development.

“They deprive children from accessing essential basic services, like schools and hospitals. And in the absence of immediate medical care, injuries can turn into life-long disabilities,” she said, adding that the use of schools in military operations is of particular concern.

For his part, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, said it is critically important for peacekeeping operations to deploy a dedicated and specialized capacity of Child Protection Adviser (CPA).

“The report…is a stark reminder that the situation of children in conflicts remains dire and that our sustained engagement – at both the political and operational levels – is vital,” he said, stressing that child protection will continue to be actively addressed across mission mandates, including in political strategies and operational plans.

In Mali, for example, a CPA will be deployed for the first phase of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to help the mission identify key child protection issues as well as the approaches and resources needed to address them.

Mr. Ladsous also noted that peacekeeping missions contribute both to the negotiation and implementation of action plans to end recruitment of children in armed forces. In addition, peacekeepers are receiving training on child protection and field operations to be able to respond appropriately to any child protection concerns they encounter in the field.

In a presidential statement adopted as an outcome to the meeting, the Security Council echoed many of these issues. While welcoming progress made in preventing and responding to violations and abuses committed against children, the 15-nation body said it remains “strongly concerned” about the continued high number of perpetrators who persist in committing such abuses in conflict situation “in open disregard of [the Council’s] resolutions on the matter”.

In that light, the Council stressed its commitment to effectively deal with persistent perpetrators and welcomes the ongoing consideration by its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict of options “for increasing pressure on persistent perpetrators of violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict.”