Multiple Crises Affecting Children Create Unprecedented Challenges

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, September 8, 2014

New York, 08 September – The multiplication of crises affecting children since the beginning of 2014 create unprecedented challenges that overshadow progress accomplished to protect them from the impact of war.

This was a message delivered by the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, to members of the Security Council as she introduced the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. 

Zerrougui stressed that she is appalled by the total disregard for human life shown by extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram, which are not only perpetrators of child rights violations, but rather part of broader regional challenges.

“ISIL has tasked boys as young as 13 to carry weapons, guard strategic locations or arrest civilians. Other children are used as suicide bombers,” said the Special Representative. According to UN monitoring, up to 700 children have been killed or maimed in Iraq since the beginning of the year, including in summary executions.   

Boko Haram has attacked schools, leading to the death of at least 100 students and 70 teachers in 2013.  The Special Representative reminded the Council that over 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in April are still missing while Boko Haram has continued to attack and kidnap civilians including children.  

Boko Haram is now listed by the Secretary-General as a party to conflict that kills and maims children, and attacks schools and hospitals. As a result of this listing, the United Nations is strengthening its capacity to monitor, report and respond to grave violations against children in northern Nigeria. 

Addressing the conflict in Gaza that killed over 500 children and injured more than 1,300, Leila Zerrougui called for a thorough investigation of the impact of the war on children. She added that perpetrators of children’s rights from all parties to the conflict must be held accountable. 

Thousands of displaced families are still living in schools and access to education for the children of Gaza is expected to remain limited for the foreseeable future. At least 244 schools were damaged or destroyed by Israel’s armed forces, including 75 managed by UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. 

Children, Not Soldiers

Leila Zerrougui was joined today by Forest Whitaker, UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation. He spoke to the Security Council about his support for the campaign Children, Not Soldiers – which aims to end the recruitment and use of children by Government forces in conflict by 2016 –, his humanitarian work and commitment to help former child soldiers rebuild their lives. 

The Special Representative’s presentation took place almost exactly six months after the launch with UNICEF of the joint campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’, endorsed by the Council in a resolution adopted in March.

She highlighted some of the progress accomplished by the eight countries concerned by the campaign with the support of UNICEF, DPKO, DPA and our civil society partners on the ground : Chad completed all the requirements of an action plan signed with the UN and its army has been declared child-free; Yemen became the 7th campaign country to sign an action plan with the UN; South Sudan formally recommitted to its action plan with the UN; Progress was also achieved in Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Zerrougui concluded her presentation by reminding members of the Security Council that child victims of conflict count on the international community to protect them by making the objective of the campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ a reality, but also by keeping children at the heart of their preoccupations and actions, from peace agreements to holding those who violate child rights accountable for their crimes.