UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

This is a summary of what was said by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's Security Council Open Debate at the United Nations in New York. Checked against delivery.

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23 June 2020 –  “There are few children as vulnerable as those living through armed conflict situations.

“Whether they’re trapped by the fighting…on the move as migrants, refugees or IDPs…part of the fighting itself…or being detained because of perceived or actual links to armed groups — these children are, first and foremost, victims of circumstances beyond their control. They are, first and foremost, children.

“The voice and support of this Council can be instrumental in supporting these children. You can help return what has been so cruelly taken from them by conflict — the simple gift of a normal childhood.

“Our efforts have raised public awareness — and often, public alarm — about the plight of these children, and the need to support them.

“And together, we’ve sent a clear message to those who would violate children’s rights — these actions are illegal, immoral and unacceptable. And the global community is committed to holding them to account. The culture of impunity must end.

“Guided by these frameworks, many states have gone one step further and brought these commitments to life in their laws and regulations.

“Over the last 15 years, the MRM has documented a shocking 250,000 grave violations against children in armed conflict, including:

  • the recruitment and use of over 77,000 children;
  • the killing and maiming of over 100,000 children,
  • rape and sexual violence against over 15,000 children;
  • the abduction of over 25,000 children;
  • nearly 17,000 attacks on schools and hospitals;
  • and nearly 11,000 incidents of denial of humanitarian access.

“And these are just the verified cases. The actual numbers are certainly much higher.

“COVID-19 adds a new urgency to this work.

“As the pandemic spreads, health care facilities have been damaged or destroyed by conflict.

“Services have been suspended.

“Children are missing out on basic medical care — including vaccinations.

“Water and sanitation systems have been damaged or destroyed altogether — making it impossible for children to wash their hands.

“Some 1.5 billion children are out of school. In conflicts, these children are at a double disadvantage, missing out on an education, and finding themselves at increased risk of violence, abuse, child marriage and recruitment to armed groups.

“Crowded conditions in camp settings, informal settlements or densely populated urban areas and detention centres make physical distancing impossible.

“And far too often, parties to conflict are using the pandemic and the need to reach and support children — particularly those on the move — for political advantage.

“To address these growing needs, we need the support and united voice of your Council to call for action in five key areas.

First — We need your influence to urge the 50 parties to conflict who have not yet signed actions plans to do so. We need action, not words — and signing these plans is a demonstration of real commitment. Help the UN create space for dialogue to bring these plans to life. These plans should increasingly address all six grave violations, instead of primarily recruitment and use. The action plan signed in South Sudan is a good model to follow.

Second — We call for the immediate release of all children in detention for their recruitment and use, or alleged association with parties to conflict. These children are victims, first and foremost — including those who may have committed crimes. They’re also at acute risk of contracting COVID-19, and must be handed over to child protection actors, like UNICEF.

Third — UNICEF calls on member states to bring nationals and their children home. Repatriate them. These children have a right to access protection, basic services, education and reintegration services.

“This includes the thousands of children stranded in northeast Syria. Young lives who are shunned and deprived of liberty because of perceived or actual links to groups designated as terrorists.

“After all they’ve experienced, they need protection and support.

“Instead, they’ve been met with ostracization and rejection. They’ve been locked up. Some have had their right to nationality denied or stripped away altogether.

“As a world we must not accept this. We must support these children.

Fourth — We call on Member States to invest in education and vocational training for reintegrated children. This is not only their right, it is the right thing to do — education provides a pathway to hope, a better life and social cohesion.

“Beyond investments, we also call for all attacks on education facilities to stop. Last year saw 927 verified attacks on schools — among the 13,000 since the MRM began. And once again, these numbers are likely much higher. We must protect this essential infrastructure.

“And fifth — we call for urgent action to respect and protect water and sanitation infrastructure. Water is a basic human right, and sanitation is the first line of defense against diseases like COVID-19 but also cholera, as well as malnutrition.

“UNICEF urges this council to use its influence to build on the many successes over the last 15 years and give every child the protection and support they deserve.

“Because they are children first and foremost.

“If we fail them, we fail the future. We fail humanity. And we fail in our duty to leave the world a better, more peaceful place than we found it.”

Thank you.

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Notes for editors:

Multimedia materials available here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFI7QW8B

Find out more about UNICEF’s work for children in conflict here: uni.cf/childrenunderattack

For more information, please contact:

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk 

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

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