Former Child Soldier Describes Forced Recruitment during Security Council Debate, Urges International Community to Aid Other Children Released by Armed Groups

SC/11832
25 March 2015
7414th Meeting (AM)

Former Child Soldier Describes Forced Recruitment during Security Council Debate, Urges International Community to Aid Other Children Released by Armed Groups

Citing ‘New and Grave’ Threats, Speakers Spotlight Strategies to Tackle Abuse, Chart Progress of Protection Campaigns

Being a child soldier was like being ripped from childhood and thrown into an adult world, the Security Council heard today from Junior Nzita Nsuami, who described his forcible recruitment at age 12 into a decade of war and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the 15-member body held an open debate on children and armed conflict.

“The lives of innocents were decimated and I continue to regret that,” he said, sharing memories of seeing many of his young companions killed amid escalating violence.  Among the most painful moments included watching other children playing and wishing that he could join them in their childhood pastimes, he said, underscoring the importance of programmes aimed at supporting released children.  Without help from the international community, Governments, the United Nations and its agencies and civil society, “we would be what our recruiters wanted us to be,” he said, hoping today’s debate would be an opportunity to take up strategies to save the thousands of children still awaiting the world’s help.

During the day-long debate, 80 speakers shared innovative strategies and concrete proposals on how to prevent and respond to violations committed by non-State armed groups against children.  In the spotlight were ways to tackle abuses and grave violations, including mass abductions, rape and sexual slavery, committed by armed groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS), also known by the Arabic acronym Da’esh.

Opening the discussion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon painted a sombre landscape of 230 million children living in countries and areas where armed groups were fighting, with up to 15 million directly affected by violence that was increasingly diverse and brutal.  Tactics by armed groups made little distinction between civilians and combatants, often targeting girls and boys.  In the last year, hundreds of thousands more children had endured “new and grave” threats posed by armed groups, which, sadly, included some of the worst human rights violations a child could experience:  death, injury, torture, sexual abuse, forced recruitment and abduction, he said, and rarely did anyone hear their protests or advocate for their rights.

Lauding the Children, Not Soldiers campaign launched a year ago by his Special Representative and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to end the recruitment and use of children by Government forces by 2016, he said the progress to date was encouraging when only a few years ago it would have been “unthinkable”.  “The children of the world should be students, not soldiers,” he said.  “These are fundamental rights of all children — not aspirations.”

Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said significant progress had been made through the Children, Not Soldiers campaign.  The majority of the 23 action plans signed to date to agree to end child recruitment were by armed groups, she said.  However, recent conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen were reminders that gains could be reversed.  Indeed, armed groups represented 51 of the 59 parties listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict, claiming extremist ideologies, controlling huge swaths of land, redrawing borders and using modern technologies to recruit and expose their brutal activities.

Children were often targeted for recruitment or for mass abductions, which were fast being used as weapons to subjugate and humiliate entire communities, she said, urging the Council to use all tools at its disposal to protect children affected by armed conflict. 

“Last year was the worst year in which to be a child,” said Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, who highlighted that armed groups in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mali and the Central African Republic were still recruiting children.  “Our outrage is not enough” and must be matched by action to end and prevent all grave violations of children’s rights while sending a strong message:  that their lives mattered.  “We cannot give up on them.  We can rebuild shattered lives and shattered societies.  As we heal these children, we also heal divided societies by erasing the stigma that released children face and building peace and, most importantly, hope.”

Julie Bodin, a Child Protection Adviser of Save the Children in the Central African Republic, called on the United Nations to redouble efforts to engage with armed groups to agree to and implement action plans.  Elaborating on examples of children released from armed forces in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said her organization had supported community-based protection networks to report to the United Nations system any violations against their rights.  In that vein, she called on the United Nations to strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organizations to develop coordinated strategies and reminded the Council of the importance of developing gender-specific approaches.

When the floor opened, speakers raised a number of issues, from broadening existing guidelines to ramping up efforts to stop child recruitment.  Many addressed the increasingly menacing threat of armed groups.  Delegates from conflict-affected countries described their efforts to stop the practice and provided insight into possible ways to tackle extremism that was targeting children.  “We are winning the war against terrorists,” said Nigeria’s speaker, who highlighted the urgent steps his Government was taking nationally and regionally to topple Boko Haram.

Some speakers pointed to national achievements.  Angola’s speaker said his country’s demobilization process was among the most extensive in the history of the United Nations — perhaps the first time the issue of child soldiers had been included as a provision in a peace process.

Speakers also offered proposals for action.  Some delegates urged States to sign the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as adhere to the 2007 Paris Principles, which provided guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups.  As the Council was poised to mark in June the tenth anniversary of resolution 1612 (2005), which established a working group on children and armed conflict, some speakers called for the text’s expansion to include abducted children.

Daunting tasks remained, some speakers said, including the difficult job of negotiating with armed groups.  Jordan’s delegate said combatting impunity ranked high on the list of important challenges.  “There’s not a magic wand to wave,” she said, but preventive approaches were needed, even to forestall conflicts from their outset.

Also delivering statements were representatives of France, Malaysia, New Zealand, China, Lithuania, Chad, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, United States, Chile, Venezuela, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, India, Iraq, Germany, Egypt, Israel, Guatemala, Pakistan, Colombia, Indonesia, Estonia, Hungary, Belgium, Thailand, Australia, Kazakhstan, Albania, Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mali, Slovenia, Canada, Austria (on behalf of the Human Security Network), Liechtenstein, Slovakia, Philippines, Burundi, Argentina, Algeria, Croatia, Qatar, Portugal, Myanmar, Poland, South Africa, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam (speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Cambodia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Montenegro, Azerbaijan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Benin and Gabon, as well as the European Union Delegation and the Holy See, State of Palestine and the African Union.

The representative of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also delivered a statement.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m.

Opening Remarks

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said last year was among the worst ever for children in areas affected by conflict, with an estimated 230 million children living in countries and areas where armed groups were fighting.  Up to 15 million children were directly affected by violence, and the perpetrators were increasingly diverse and brutal.  “It is our responsibility to bring these issues into the spotlight for discussion — and action,” he said.

Globally, he said, armed groups were the main perpetrators of such grave violations.  In the last year, hundreds of thousands more children had endured “new and grave” threats posed by those groups, which, sadly, included some of the worst human rights violations a child could experience:  death, injury, torture, sexual abuse, forced recruitment and abduction.  Rarely did anyone hear their protests or advocate for their rights.  Tactics by groups such as Da’esh and Boko Haram made little distinction between civilians and combatants, often targeting girls and boys.  “No one can justify such acts,” he said.

Increasingly, children were snatched from a normal life of school and family, he said, citing a wave of such abductions, from north-eastern Nigeria to Iraq, from South Sudan to Syria, that had been used to terrorize entire communities.  He urged States to work with the United Nations to strengthen prevention and response efforts.

“We agree that we cannot tolerate a world in which children are killed and maimed,” he said, “where they are abducted, subject to sexual violence, forced to become soldiers”, which was why the Organization engaged Governments and armed groups alike to stop the violence.  The Council’s resolutions over the past 16 years had built a solid framework to better engage those parties, and such efforts had translated into thousands of children now attending school instead of battle.  He called on the international community to continue supporting such work, to ensure that children’s best interests were at the heart of any collective response.

Lauding the “Children Not Soldiers” campaign launched a year ago by his Special Representative and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to end the recruitment and use of children by Government forces by 2016, he said the progress to date was encouraging.  Chad had completed all requirements to make its army child-free, while six of the seven countries involved in the campaign were now engaged with the United Nations in similar efforts — progress that would have been “unthinkable” just a few years ago.  “The children of the world should be students, not soldiers,” he said; they deserved to grow up in safe communities where they could reach their full potential.  These are fundamental rights of all children — not aspirations,” he said.

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and elsewhere, violence by armed groups had expanded to “worrying” proportions.  In the Central African Republic, thousands of children had been taken into their ranks.  “The debate today is for all of these children,” she said.  The Organization must adapt its response.

Indeed, she said, armed groups represented 51 of the 59 parties listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on children in armed conflict, claiming extremist ideologies, controlling huge swaths of land, redrawing borders and using modern technologies to recruit and expose their brutal activities.  Mass abductions of women and children were fast being used to subjugate and humiliate entire communities.  Children abducted were used for all kinds of tasks, including human shields, or to commit suicide attacks.  Mass abductions had grown in several conflict areas.  Schools and hospitals were not spared.  The attack by Tahrik-i-Taliban against a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, which killed 132 children and injured 133, had been carried out to indoctrinate and radicalize future generations.  In almost all conflict situations, girls were raped, forced to marry armed group members and forced into sexual slavery. 

It was possible to negotiate with the armed groups, she said.  Their structure and demands often were different.  Access to them was not always easy and she promoted an approach that used all possibilities for engagement.  Recalling this year’s tenth anniversary of resolution 1612 (2005), she said the Council’s tools had been effective:  the majority of the 23 action plans signed to date had been with armed groups, while other dialogue processes were under way.  For example, in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, awareness-raising made it possible to free nearly 4,000 children in 2014.  In Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) had obtained agreements from the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) and other armed groups to stop violations against children. 

More broadly, she said, efforts to ensure children’s protection must be part of negotiations in a coherent and systematic manner, and reflected in any peace agreement.  Measures must be taken to pressure groups that turned a deaf ear, she said, urging a multidimensional approach.  In addition to military pressure, States must not neglect the judiciary and sanctions.  She urged strengthening national judicial responses and international cooperation, which was essential for stopping impunity and cross-border crime.  The response must respect international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and not stigmatize any communities.

Continuing, she said, children associated — or suspected of being associated — with armed groups often were detained in deplorable conditions without charges.  When they were charged, it was often in military courts, which did not consider their status as minors.  “Children associated with armed groups are, above all, victims of these groups, but also victims of our inability to ensure their protection,” she stressed.  Their reintegration was essential for creating sustainable peace and preventing recruitment.  Programmes that were well-adapted to their needs were essential and she urged the Council’s support in that regard.

While significant progress had been made through the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, she said conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen were reminders that gains could be reversed.  It was essential to work with all partners to ensure that measures were institutionalized.  With that, she urged the Council to use all tools at its disposal to protect children affected by armed conflict.

YOKA BRANDT, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said 2014 was the worst year to be a child.  Armed groups in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mali and the Central African Republic were still recruiting children.  “Our outrage is not enough,” she said, adding that it must be matched by action to end and prevent all grave violations of child rights.  But releasing children from forced recruitment was only the first step to heal their psychological wounds, pain and stigmatization.  They needed immediate support.

For its part, UNICEF and the South Sudan Government were working to care for and protect released children in interim centres that offered food, clothing, health care, counselling and programmes to address sexual and gender-based violence, she said.  In the Central African Republic, UNICEF was working to reintegrate more than 2,800 children associated with anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka armed groups as well as the nearly 10,000 others still involved with them.

Such efforts send a strong message:  that their lives matter, she said, underlining that countries and children who experience conflict were not without hope.  “We cannot give up on them,” she said.  “We can rebuild shattered lives and shattered societies.  As we heal these children, we also heal divided societies by erasing the stigma that released children face and building peace and, most importantly, hope.”

JULIE BODIN, Child Protection Adviser of Save the Children in the Central African Republic, said engagement with non-State armed groups was guided by the single goal of protecting children and the Children, Not Soldiers campaign showed a potential for making an impact on State security forces.  Action plans, in which parties to armed conflict committed to measures to end violations, were proving to be an effective tool for ending such practices.  Calling on States to facilitate access for the United Nations and specialized child protection actors to armed groups, she called on the United Nations to redouble efforts to engage with armed groups to agree to and implement action plans.

Elaborating on examples of children released from armed forces in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said her organization had supported community-based protection networks to report to the United Nations system any violations against their rights.  In that vein, she called on the United Nations to strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organizations to develop coordinated strategies and reminded the Council of the importance of developing gender-specific approaches.

In times of conflict, protection of education was critical, she said, urging Member States and all parties to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.  Further, Member States and donors should provide long-term financial support for prevention and reintegration programmes.  Member States should also ensure the deployment of peacekeepers to locations where children were most at risk.  Save the Children called on the Secretary-General to develop a policy that prohibited security forces of Governments on his list from contributing to United Nations missions.

JUNIOR NZITA NSUAMI, President of Paix Pour L’Enfance, reflected on his own experience being recruited at age 12 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a child combatant for the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo.  He and his classmates were recruited by force from their school.  For 10 years, he was associated with the armed group, fighting on the frontlines, looting and destroying infrastructure and violating international humanitarian law.  “The lives of innocents were decimated,” he said.  “I continue to regret that.”  Having seen many of his young companions killed amid the escalating violence, he said the most painful moments included watching other children playing and wishing that he could join them in their childhood pastimes.

But his life changed in 2006 when he joined a national demobilization and reintegration programme, which allowed him to “rebuild” himself psychologically and to turn a page on his past, he said.  Since then, he had written Si ma vie d’enfant soldat pouvait être racontée, a book about his experience, and had dedicated his life to help children and his country to build a better future.  His non-governmental organization aimed to end the practice, which affected thousands of children, and he was committed to a new fight, one against forced recruitment so no other child would have to experience what he did.  As an ambassador with the Children, Not Soldiers campaign and the national Never Again initiative, he said while his country had made progress, too many children in too many countries remained associated with armed groups. 

“To be a child soldier is to be ripped from childhood and inserted into the life of adults,” he said, underscoring the importance of programmes aimed at supporting released children.  Without help from the international community, Governments, the United Nations and its agencies and civil society, he said “we would be what our recruiters wanted us to be.”  Concluding, he hoped the debate would be an opportunity to take up strategies to save the thousands of children who were still awaiting the world’s help.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said 90 per cent of abductions were committed by non-State actors, particularly Boko Haram and Da’esh.  Condemnation was not enough; “we need to have more effective means,” he said.  Fourteen such groups had agreed to stop violations against children and seven of those groups had been removed from the Secretary-General’s annual report.  Action at political and diplomatic levels had shown results in the Philippines in preventing children’s recruitment.  United Nations guidelines for mediators on the protection and freeing of children were also needed.  Resolution 1612 (2005) should be expanded to include abduction as among the violations that would lead to the listing of parties on the “black list”.  Also, operational actions must be taken in all phases of conflict; awareness-raising was essential to discourage children from joining armed groups.  Local security forces must be trained to deal cautiously with child soldiers, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had a clear role in designing such strategies and in proposing training programmes.  The situation for girls must be part of a finely tuned follow-up.  Judicial cooperation also must also be stepped up.  He urged States to sign the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as adhere to the 2007 Paris Principles.

HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), aligning with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said successive Council resolutions and presidential statements had expanded the range of instruments to shield children from the harms of warfare.  Yet millions continued to be affected by armed conflict around the world.  More needed to be done to end impunity and prevent those grave violations.  While Governments bore the primary responsibility for the protection of children within their territory, the bulk of parties listed in the Secretary-General’s report were non-State armed groups.  They represented a wide array of organizations with diverse motives and operating in vastly different circumstances.  Thus there could be no one-size-fits-all approach.  As peace processes provided a critical forum of engagement, child protection provisions should be integrated into negotiations and agreements.  The special needs of girls, who were are great risk of sexual violence and abuse, must be taken into account in reintegration strategies.

JIM MCLAY (New Zealand) said that good work had been done to address the violations committed by non-State armed groups in the area of children in armed conflict.  However, he said, “whether it be agreeing on an action plan, supporting the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, or providing training for our peacekeepers, all 193 of us can do something.”  Child protection training should be mandatory for all uniformed and civilian peacekeeping personnel.  In addition, more could be done to mainstream child protection approaches across the work of the United Nations, in particular through the provision of guidance for mediators on addressing conflict-related violations against children in ceasefire and peace agreements, and the inclusion of relevant child protection expertise in sanction expert groups.  New Zealand encouraged enhanced cooperation between Governments, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and child protection actors to ensure that relevant action plans were agreed with non-State armed groups.  “It’s critical that we find ways to incentivise their engagement,” he said in that regard.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said hostilities in Syria had led to widespread abuse against children, and in the Central African Republic, the systematic use of children had become endemic.  The Children, Not Soldiers campaign had mobilized high-level political commitments, but the vast majority of parties in the Secretary-General’s latest report were non-State groups.  As such, progress should be measured not only by improved normative frameworks but also by how the international community and the Council itself implemented the measures in different contexts.  Angola’s demobilization process was among the most extensive in the history of the United Nations — perhaps the first time the issue of child soldiers had been included as a provision in a peace process.  He supported the incorporation in peacebuilding efforts of specific child-protection commitments aimed at children’s rapid release from armed forces and armed groups.  All abducted children must be released immediately, he said, urging the expansion of resolution 1612 (2005) to include abduction as an additional issue to be monitored.  There also should be a mandatory child protection requirement for troop-contributing countries.  Additionally, armed groups must be prevented from acquiring small arms and light weapons and more States should support the Paris Principles.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said the Special Representative had visited his country and engaged in high-level discussions at the federal and state levels.  Her suggestions were being factored into his Government’s policies and actions.  Associating with the African Union, he said child protection was a core human rights issue and holding perpetrators to account was a State obligation.  Noting that armed non-State actors operated in the Sahel, Middle East, Great Lakes region and in his country, he condemned in the strongest terms mass abductions, including by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS), calling for the unconditional release of children.  He demanded that conflict parties stop school attacks and actions that impeded children’s access to education, including the military use of schools.

For its part, Nigeria had launched a “safe schools” initiative for children around the country, he said, and was meeting its obligations in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol.  “We are determined to enforce them,” he said, assuring the Council that the Nigerian military remained a professional force aware of its domestic and international obligations.  Nigeria had never attempted to recruit or use children in the war against Boko Haram.  Watch groups had been created by youth across north-eastern Nigeria to protect against that group and membership was voluntary, without any coercion by Nigeria.  Additionally, the country was taking all necessary measures to staunch the threat by Boko Haram.  “We are winning the war against the terrorists,” he said, and determined to bring the perpetrators to justice.

LIU JIEYI (China) said the protection of children started with stopping armed conflicts and encouraging the Council to make more use of negotiation and mediation, as outlined in the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VI.  At the same time, State sovereignty should be respected in implementing child-protection programmes.  The international community should make full use of the Government’s lead role in mobilizing international assistance.  It should work to stop violence against children by urging parties to observe their international obligations.  The Council should not condone acts by terrorist or extremist forces.  Rather, it should adopt a zero-tolerance policy against them to create a safe environment for children.  All United Nations bodies should leverage their strengths to protect children, with peacekeeping operations increasing child protection efforts.  Assistance for children’s return to their homes should be incorporated into post-conflict peacebuilding strategies.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), aligning with the European Union, said that even in the middle of Europe the phenomenon of child soldiers had surfaced under the lawless rule of the illegal militants ravaging the eastern parts of Ukraine.  Welcoming the results produced by the Children, Not Soldiers campaign in many States, she said several non-State armed groups had also taken steps in the right direction.  However, those were only a drop in the ocean, as only 12 of 51 annexed armed groups had signed action plans to date.  The release of children was only the first step of a process that needed to include physical and psychological care, reintegration and training.  Otherwise those children would remain “hostages of the horrors they survived”.  Governments and financial partners must ensure adequate resources for the purpose, and community and family support capacity needed to be strengthened.  The illicit and uncontrolled flow of small arms and light weapons must be stopped, while child recruitment and violence against children must become routine sanctions designation criteria.  Pursuit of accountability was important not only to react to crimes already committed, but also to prevent new ones.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) said today’s discussion was an important stage in the process of addressing the problem of armed groups, which were using ever more brutal tactics, including mass abductions.  Measures should be designed to address those acts, he said, underscoring a need to urgently bring perpetrators to justice.  There was also a need to negotiate with armed groups to establish an action plan to end child recruitment, and some of those groups had made commitments to do so.  For its part, Chad had ratified major instruments, including the Paris Principles, and had released children.  Regional commitments had also been made, he said, calling on all States to accede to and implement the necessary measures to block the paths of armed groups trying to commit violence against children.  Abduction should indeed be listed in the Secretary-General’s report, and strengthened measures and actions needed to make a strong impact on the ground.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said that since the last debate on children and armed conflict, reports showed that grave abuses had continued, including in Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan, involving brutal armed groups.  Accountability, reintegration and promoting action plans and inclusive peace processes were key.  The International Criminal Court played a valuable role against impunity, he said, adding that the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo conviction had sent a strong message in that regard.  Accountability must be ensured, and the expansion of resolution 1612 (2006) to include abduction would assist in that objective.  However, children remained vulnerable to re-recruitment and needed support, as they were the victims and not the perpetrators.  Non-State actors had shown a commitment to protecting children, he said, urging all armed groups to end the violations.  Côte d’Ivoire set an example of including children in peace processes, he said, noting that States must assume their responsibility for allowing armed groups to flourish, and whether in Syria, Yemen or eastern Ukraine, should do their utmost to protect children.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said despite improvements, there had been an unprecedented increase in violations against children by non-State armed groups, particularly in the Middle East.  Many extremist groups had committed horrendous crimes against them, forcing them to work as combatants, suicide bombers or sexual slaves.  Da’esh had recently opened specialized centres to recruit children, she said, warning that the main danger was that the group was training a whole generation in its terrorist ideology.  The Internet was also a channel used to reach children, and guidelines should be established on social networking pages to prevent recruitment efforts.  Among the most important challenges was combatting impunity.  “There’s not a magic wand to wave,” she said, but preventive approaches were needed, even to forestall conflicts from their outset.  Support for children was also needed, including by providing education, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes.  Awareness-raising campaigns directed at children could inform them about the risks of joining armed groups, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  Jordan had provided assistance to children in Syria and was working to provide them with a variety of services.

EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said the Children, Not Soldiers campaign had resulted in concrete action.  Yet the severity of the problem was seen by the practices of armed groups, such as ISIL and Boko Haram, who were recruiting children as suicide bombers and soldiers.  Settling conflict and implementing reconstruction plans must keep children’s issues in mind.  In that regard, the international community should support those efforts, working with States.  Governments, for their part, had a role to play in addressing the prevalence of armed groups and their recruitment of children.  Ways of exerting pressure on violators could vary, he said, adding that the Council’s Working Group had the tools, through resolutions, to find the most effective ways to address such violations.  Today’s discussions could be a preparation for June’s debate, to be held to mark the anniversary of resolution 1612 (2005), he concluded.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said countries must ensure that their national forces did not unlawfully recruit and use children.  In the United States, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act was signed into law in 2008, requiring an annual list of Governments that unlawfully recruited or used children in their armed forces or supported armed groups that did so.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had signed an action plan with the United Nations to end such behaviour, including sexual violence.  In turn, the United Nations had been given more access to detention centres.  He encouraged States to employ similar tools.  For its part, the United Nations could insist on strong human rights reporting on abuses against children in its peacekeeping missions — and then hold perpetrators to account.  It could also ensure that child protection was on the table when negotiating peace agreements.  More than 1,000 had been separated from armed groups to date.  Young people were increasingly joining organizations intent on instilling terror, he said, noting that on 17 February, three girls had travelled from London to Istanbul and into Syria with plans to join ISIL, whose propaganda was “shockingly effective”.  Its exploitation of young people must be exposed.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), aligning with the Human Security Network, said his country was a signatory to the Paris Principles.  He condemned the six most serious violations against children identified by the Council, as well as the abduction of children and their use as suicide bombers and extremists.  No ideology could justify such acts, which must be eradicated.  He encouraged cooperation in designing strategies for eliminating extremism, pressing the Council to address the issue of child abduction in conflict and post-conflict situations.  He also condemned the use of children by non-State actors in illegal trafficking and natural resource exploitation.  He welcomed any recommendations by expert groups of the sanctions committees to staunch the flow of small arms and light weapons.  In order for Council resolution 2143 (2014) to be implemented, he stressed the civilian nature of schools, cautioning against their military use.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), noting that his country had adopted all United Nations conventions to protect children, condemned violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  He deplored the use of children in armed conflict and persistent impunity for such abuse, supporting measures to ensure the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers into society.  He also deplored actions against children by ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaida.  Children joined those groups because they were forced to do so.  It was essential to move beyond an exclusively punitive approach and address the root causes of conflict.  Guaranteeing children’s protection could be achieved only in adequate socioeconomic and political conditions.  He supported accountability for violations against children in armed conflict, citing the more than 300 abducted children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He encouraged States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Child and its Optional Protocol.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) urged full implementation of the Council’s six resolutions on children and armed conflict.  Six serious rights violations also had been identified and he supported Malaysia’s proposal that those acts be considered “triggers”.  The mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) best reflected the problem of children in armed conflict and he proposed ensuring that all peacekeeping operations included an “adequate narrative” on child protection, for example, a special adviser on children’s issues.  Blue helmets should be trained in child protection.  The United Nations funds and programmes had made progress, especially in South Sudan, where UNICEF had helped 1,100 children return to school.  Non-State actors should be accessed to address the issue of children in armed conflict, and tools such as social networks should be used to denounce such abuse, as should dialogue and action plans.  Interaction between the International Criminal Court and the Council should also be promoted.

GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), strongly condemning violations against children by non-State armed groups, also drew attention to abuses against boys and girls that resulted from unilateral Government military intervention and illegal occupation.  It was essential to highlight and uphold the basic political distinction between armed conflicts and situations of domestic law enforcement.  On the one hand, armed conflicts examined by the Council were subject to the rules and regulations of international humanitarian law, such as the obligation of all parties — including non-State actors — to protect children and other civilians.  In those cases, diplomatic and legal measures all had a role to play, as did the International Criminal Court.  On the other hand, cases of domestic law enforcement that did not represent a threat to international peace and security fell outside the Council’s mandate, and should be handled by Governments through national legislation.  A different set of standards applied under those circumstances — that of international human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other instruments.  International cooperation should not be excluded from that domain.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that crimes against children in wartime, particularly sexual violations, were an affront to human decency.  Use of children as combatants was a war crime.  In addition to ending such practices, further attention must be paid to reintegrating child victims into society.  All States should engage in the Safe Schools Initiative as it was particularly important to protect education during conflicts.  In addition, ending impunity for violators was crucial and international mechanisms should be utilized to ensure justice, he said, while underlining that States bore the primary responsibility to protect their populations.  Stressing that proper children’s-rights training for peacekeepers was crucial, he announced that Sweden was once again planning to host a United Nations Child Protection Training of Trainers Course.  In closing, he underlined that enhanced socioeconomic well-being of children was their best protection, and he called for their needs to be central in the post-2015 development agenda.

BHAGWANT SINGH BISHNOI (India) cautioned that United Nations access to non-State armed groups should not bypass national Governments and give them political legitimacy.  The concept note before the Council referred to the need for military operations, including peace operations, against non-State armed groups, as well as to integrate child protection measures into their operational planning and procedures.  Drafting such an important mandate would require the Council to have the full cooperation of the host Government as well as the troop-contributing Member States not represented on the Council.  That practice, however, had unfortunately not been in place.  “The possibility of sanctions and questions of accountability should not lead us to be blindsided,” he added, noting that the need to put more pressure on non-State armed groups should not lead the Council to “miss the woods for the trees”.  Finally, he said, the international community should strive to address the broader issue of economic and social marginalization that drove millions of children into the kind of childhood that made them part of the problem, rather than part of tomorrow’s solution.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq) affirmed the enormous challenges posed to his country by ISIL, including its criminal practices against children in the form of killing, trafficking, sexual abuse, deprivation of education and health services, exploitation in media and recruitment for armed activity, suicide bombing and other manipulation.  There were tens of thousands of children in the areas under the terror and control of the group.  He pledged that his Government would expend great effort to re-integrate children liberated from them, noting the great challenge presented by the increase in orphans and the situation of Yazidi and other children who had been forced to convert and were otherwise alienated from their communities.

HARALD BRAUN (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, agreed that despite progress achieved, more needed to be done to tackle violations committed by non-State actors.  In that respect, he made three operative points on how the United Nations could improve the implementation of its children and armed conflict agenda.  First, success depended on an open, constructive and continued dialogue among all Member States, United Nations institutions, civil society organizations and academic centres.  For that reason, Germany had recently organized a workshop on the implementation of Council resolution 1998 (2011) on the protection of schools and hospitals.  Second, more could be done to protect civilians, in particular children.  Third, in order to strengthen accountability for perpetrators, Germany encouraged the Council to include grave violations against children as a designation criterion in sanctions committees, and encouraged the Special Representative to continue to share information with appropriate sanctions committees.  The Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict should also share country-specific conclusions with relevant committees.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, said the international community shared the responsibility of ensuring that all children were able to attend school and to grow up free from fear and violence no matter where they lived.  It was important to intensify efforts to address abuses and violations committed by non-State armed groups with a series of measures, including the adoption and effective implementation of action plans.  Fighting impunity must be part of international action as should deterring military use of schools.

Child protection should be included in military training and mandates of peace operations, he said, adding that abductions as a new trigger for listing would be one way of addressing today’s worrying pattern.  The Union and its member States had made considerable strides in addressing the issue in a comprehensive way.  The tenth anniversary of resolution 1612 (2005), which established the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, would be a good opportunity to take stock of both achievements and challenges ahead.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) condemned violence against children by armed groups in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Central Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere.  To address the wide gap between the adoption and implementation of Council resolutions, he proposed creating a more coordinated system to collect data.  More efforts should be taken regarding transitional justice measures in order to bring perpetrators to justice.  Affected children must be rehabilitated and reintegrated economically, socially and culturally into society, he said, while more funds should be secured for implementing the “children in armed conflict” agenda.  Discussions in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations should continue.  Countries bore the main responsibility for protecting civilians, and he urged addressing the root causes of conflict, such as poverty and social exclusion, with approaches designed by States in accordance with their priorities, resources and national strategies.  He unequivocally condemned all acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

RON PROSOR (Israel) said his country and people had learned too many painful lessons.  Terrorists had robbed children of their dreams, livelihoods, and futures.  Hamas might claim to represent its people’s well-being, but its actions reflected countless wrongdoings, including deploying minors as suicide bombers and human shields.  The Palestinian leadership regularly turned to the international community for financial support, but when it came to funding, training, arming and indoctrinating thousands of young Palestinian children, there was no shortage of money.  Across the Middle East, terrorists and extremists were poisoning the minds of the next generation, teaching them to hate, vilify and dehumanize Israelis and Jews.  The world needed to send the message that children should be sent to playgrounds and not to battlegrounds and that they had infinite values as human beings and not human shields.

MÓNICA BOLAÑOS PÉREZ (Guatemala) said the abuses against children were also an affront to humankind.  Special and specific attention must be paid to the protection of children given their vulnerability to a range of abuses.  There should be appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration programmes complete with full funding.  It was also necessary to uphold the provisions of successive Council resolutions on the subject, she said, calling for greater efforts to prevent military use of schools.  The fragmentation of armed groups and increase of ever more violent groups had been changing the landscape of conflict.  There was ample justification for expanding the criteria for listing groups in the Secretary-General’s report.  The fight against impunity must be at the core of international efforts, he declared.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the massacre of more than 100 schoolchildren in the city of Peshawar three months ago was one of the worst atrocities perpetrated against children.  That attack had strengthened the resolve of the Government and people of Pakistan to combat terrorist violence and the groups.  Children had been inspired by Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet in the head rather than submit to the terrorists’ dictates or agenda.  Preventing the recruitment and indoctrination of children by extremist and militant organizations and education for the promotion of tolerance were priorities for her country.  Sharing best practices and experience gained by other nations could help strengthen the world’s collective response.

MARÍA EMMA MEJÍA VÉLEZ (Colombia) said that the moving stories heard today explained the problem very well, including that of her country in which children had been prey to armed groups.  Hope was now directed towards peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgents, and her country was committed to protect the rights of children as required by basic national documents.  The age for enlistment in the armed forces had been raised from 15 to 19, and national mechanisms provided care for victims of sexual violence and military recruitment.  FARC had announced the end of recruiting children under age 17, but more was needed, including a prohibition of that practice.  The Council must focus more consistently on the obligations of non-State groups, while recognizing that States had the primary responsibility to protect their populations.

DESRA PERCAYA (Indonesia) said that too many times children were despicably considered a “tactic” with impunity, becoming conflict fodder, with enduring physical and emotional scars.  The tragedy was worsened when non-State actors were involved.  All perpetrators of violence and abuse against children in armed conflict must know that the international system would not give them any space.  In some situations involving non-State actors, relief might be secured for children and other vulnerable groups through negotiations.  However, the international community should develop its approach in a systemic manner.  The key and ongoing objective should be to assist conflicted-affected States to establish well-functioning institutions, accountable to their citizens.  All must contribute more to strengthening the implementation of the global normative framework within the United Nations and outside.  The Organization should strengthen partnerships with regional and subregional organizations as well as with civil society groups.  Most important in protecting children’s rights was preventing conflict itself.

MINNA-LIINA LIND (Estonia), associating with the European Union, said that measures taken with non-State armed groups should focus on prevention, action plans and ending impunity for crimes committed.  She urged all actors listed in the annex of the Secretary-General’s last report to adopt and implement action plans committing themselves to end violations against children; the Secretary-General and his Special Representative should develop strategies for outreach to them.  Governments should facilitate and support engagement of non-State armed groups with the Special Representative and UNICEF.  Reiterating the importance of the International Criminal Court in situations where States were unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice domestically, she said the international community should assist in strengthening national judicial capacities.  Estonia allocated resources to help those countries that requested it in domestic implementation relating to Rome Statute crimes and encouraged others to do so.  The Council should include violations against children in the mandate of all sanctions committees and individuals sought by the International Criminal Court could be included on the sanctions lists.  She called for the immediate release of all abducted children and for the Council to add abduction as a criterion in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s reports.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary), emphasizing the impact and duration of trauma on children harmed during armed conflict and supporting the statement made by the Delegation of the European Union, said that the International Criminal Court verdict against Thomas Lubanga was an important step to ending the suffering.  She also fully supported the campaign Children, Not Soldiers as well.  Harm to children from armed conflict was not new, but the prevalence of sexual violence, use of children as soldiers and militarization of schools was of deep concern.  She emphasized the importance of education to keep children from being radicalized and joining armed groups.

BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium), noting the new challenges posed by the current exploitation of children by armed groups, said that real alternatives must be offered to children to help keep them from armed groups.  Such preventive measures, including education, were key to stop the growth of armed groups.  She reiterated the need for the Council to put more pressure on armed groups to end exploitation of children and to strongly fight impunity for crimes.  The Paris Principles contained valuable tools to protect children; she urged all those countries that had not acceded to them to do so.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand), associating with the Human Security Network and ASEAN, condemned children’s involvement in armed conflict anywhere and by any parties, including non-State armed groups.  Thailand was committed to stopping such abuse.  Underscoring the need to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, he said child protection was each State’s responsibility.  As such, the United Nations must have the consent of those concerned and be fully aware of sensitivities when addressing conflicts where non-State actors committed crimes against children.  Coordination must be enhanced among international agencies, he said, noting that the Secretary-General’s report should be the result of consultations with States and based on accurate, reliable information.  He also urged more focus on children’s reintegration into society, saying national strategies should be devised to improve the rule of law, education and socioeconomic conditions.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that despite the progress in the 16 years since children and armed conflict first appeared on the Council’s agenda, such conflict continued to take a terrible toll on children around the globe.  In Syria, a generation of children faced deprivation, displacement, violence, malnutrition and disrupted education.  The threat posed to children by extremist groups was alarming, with girls especially vulnerable.  Non-State armed groups engaged in peace processes were more likely to engage on child protection, she said, urging the Special Representative to continue her efforts to form action plans with such groups.  Where parties to a conflict failed to adhere to their obligations under international law, the Council should use the tools at its disposal to ensure accountability.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) said that to combat the brutalization and recruitment of children by non-State actors it was important to recognize that such actors were not monolithic and to understand each organization’s degree of extremism, political and religious motives, structures, tactics and amenability to dialogue.  Supporting the Children, Not Soldiers initiative, he encouraged facilitation of contact between the United Nations and non-State actors so as to ensure protection of children and the signing of action plans.  However, such contact should not prejudge the political or legal status of the groups.  Child protection criteria must be incorporated into the mandates of sanctions committees, peacekeeping operations and other missions and the Working Group on the issue must become more effective through unity.  He encouraged training of relevant personnel in child protection and mobilization of non-governmental organizations and the donor community.  Stressing his own country’s concern with children’s security in times of conflict, he described legal, treaty and educational measures taken in that context.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania), associating with the European Union, noted the bleak assessment of the situation of children described in the Secretary-General’s report, including the most unspeakable crimes committed by ISIL and other extremists.  Affirming his country’s commitment to preventing the abuse of children, he reiterated support for the Children, Not Soldiers campaign and welcomed the decision against Thomas Lubanga.  Swift and resolute action must be taken to protect children; the use of the veto in situations of mass crimes was not acceptable.  Noting his country’s accession to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, he urged its implementation and ratification by all.

OLIVIER MARC ZEHNDER (Switzerland), underlining the importance of ensuring that not only States but also non-State armed groups were aware of their responsibility to protect children under international humanitarian law, paid tribute to the efforts of Ms. Zerrougui and the organization Geneva Call to engage in dialogues with those groups.  He called for international support to them as well as to the child-protection work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Expressing concern over the scale of atrocities against children and their indoctrination by extremist groups in the past few months, he also warned against criminalizing all humanitarian aid to areas controlled by such groups because it increased the suffering of the children there.  Pointing to an urgent need to ensure respect for international law regarding children and educational rights, he praised the Lucens Guidelines as providing clear policies for preventing the use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.  He welcomed the training of peacekeepers in children’s needs, noting that his country would contribute financially to a review of the deployment of Child Protection Advisers in missions.  He also welcomed the initiative of the French presidency to gather Member States’ operational ideas on the topic.

EMILIA GATTO (Italy), aligning with the statement made by the European Union delegation, noted the significant increase in non-State actors and the radicalization of conflicts in recent years, as well as the continuing vulnerability of children.  Accountability for crimes against children was critical; for that purpose the Council might consider abduction and other crimes as listing criteria in relevant reports.  Mandates should be reviewed in order to strengthen child protection and targeted pre-deployment training should be scaled up as a standard United Nations practice.  Engagement with all actors should be encouraged and proper reintegration of affected children should be addressed through peacekeeping mandates and other mechanisms.  The International Criminal Court had an essential role to play in ending impunity; in that context she welcomed the judgement against Thomas Lubango.  Finally, she stressed that prevention was crucial by empowering youth through a range of processes.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), aligning with the European Union, said violence against children sapped the resources of entire societies and required an approach that addressed its multifaceted challenges.  Despite the progress made in the area, more determined action was needed, especially given the modus operandi of non-State armed groups.  States should facilitate United Nations access to those groups and inform them of their obligations.  The protection of children must be taken into account in peace talks.  Data collection on armed groups should be strengthened in order to promote tailored solutions.  He emphasized the imperative of preventing the use of schools for military purposes.

SÉKOU KASSÉ (Mali) said his country had played a key role in the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and succeeding Governments had implemented child protection initiatives.  However, children’s fate reached a dramatic turning point after the outbreak of terrorism in the northern part of the country.  In light of that situation, the Government pledged to abide by resolutions of the Council and other international instruments in its search for peace.  However, the armed movement had refused to sign an understanding that had been crafted with such painstaking effort by the stakeholders.  A final peace agreement would, among other things, allow the Government to calmly pursue its efforts to protect and promote children’s rights.

MATEJ MARN (Slovenia), aligning with the European Union and the Human Security Network, said that a “one size fits all” solution could not be the right one in addressing different challenges on the children and armed conflict agenda.  At the same time, the diversity of armed non-State actors and the transnational nature of several of them demanded a tailored approach.  Abductions presented one of the gravest violations committed against children in armed conflict and recent cases were proof that Council action was required.  He called on the body to set abductions as a trigger for the inclusion of parties to be listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report.  The perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable through the national justice system or, when applicable, through international justice mechanisms.

GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI (Canada) called for the immediate release of all abducted children, urging the Council to make abduction a criterion for being listed in the annex of the Secretary-General’s report.  Increasingly, schools were being used as hiding places.  He called on conflict parties to refrain from using schools as bases, barracks, weapons caches and detention centres.  All too often, girls were victims of rape, sexual violence and exploitation, and he called for “special and dedicated” attention to protect them.  Effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes for children were crucial, as were community-based programmes that received timely, sustained and adequate resources.  More must be done to help girls who had survived violence to recover and reintegrate into their communities so their trauma was not compounded by social stigma.  He urged States to cooperate in preventing the radicalization, recruitment, equipping and cross-border transit of children to join non-State armed groups.

GEROLD VOLLMER (Austria), speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, called for more concrete efforts to bring to justice those who commit grave violations against children in conflict situations, particularly in the form of sexual violence.  National justice systems, regional cooperation and the International Criminal Court had important roles to play in that regard, and the presence of local female police and women peacekeepers could encourage reporting of crimes.  The United Nations and national Governments should, in addition, cooperate closely to ensure that action plans for non-State armed groups increased significantly with greater efforts on their implementation.  Child protection measures must be integrated into peace negotiations and peacekeeping mandates. 

Welcoming the guidelines for preventing military use of schools, he stressed that every child should have access to education, even in regions of armed conflict.  Stressing the importance of monitoring and timely reporting on the situation of children, he condemned mass abduction and recruitment of children.  He encouraged all States that had not done so to ratify the Optional Protocol on involvement of children in armed conflict, encouraging as well the Council Working Group on the issue to make full use of its tool box to move the agenda forward.

STEFAN BARRIGA (Liechtenstein) called for abduction to be grounds for listing in the report and for non-State actors to be directly engaged for purposes of preventing recruitment of children.  Perpetrators must be made aware that their actions are illegal; International Criminal Court trials had a role in that regard.  Third States could help determine the Court’s jurisdiction through participation of their nationals or use of universal jurisdiction.  It had been shown that justice mechanisms could be a “great ally” of the Council in promoting the protection of children, and he urged it to make better use of the International Criminal Court and other such mechanisms.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, urged the Council not to forget Palestinian children, who were suffering extreme hardships, shocking acts of aggression, oppression, and gross human rights violations due to the Israeli occupation and persistence of a conflict for nearly 70 years.  Israeli occupying forces engaged in a pattern of killing and maiming children and deliberately targeted schools and hospitals.  Israel denied humanitarian access to the entire occupied Palestinian people, endangering the children’s well-being and survival.  Israel’s policies were not only gross violations against children but systematic violations of international law tantamount to war crimes.  He called on the Secretary-General to add the Israeli occupying forces to the United Nations global list of parties that consistently committed grave violations against children, and urged Member States to join that call.  The plight of the Palestinian children could not be divorced from the wider political context.  Only an independent State of Palestine, where the people could live in freedom and dignity, would bring permanent relief and lasting peace and security to its children.

FRANTIŠEK RUŽIČKA (Slovakia), associating with the European Union, described the situation of children in armed conflict today, noting that at least 2 million had died in the past decade as a result of wars; 6 million were disabled or seriously injured; and 1 billion lived in conflict-affected areas.  Since 2009, there had been a “deplorable string of violence and abuse against children,” he said, urging that the “immediate cessation of Boko Haram’s hostilities and abuses that are now shockingly spreading outside Nigeria and brutally affecting Chad, Cameroon and Niger is a must”.  He also called for the unconditional release of all abducted civilians, including the 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria in April 2014.  Victims of such crimes lacked adequate assistance, and the perpetrators remained unpunished in most cases.  In that regard, the role of the International Criminal Court was indispensable, and the United Nations and Security Council should further explore ways to assist the Court.  With young people affected and attracted by radicalism, the international community must focus on home, safety, education and the ability to live in a stable society when speaking about a better future for them.

MARIA ANGELA PONCE (Philippines), aligning with ASEAN and recalling the experience of his country’s peace process, said peace talks must incorporate the protection of children and provide a framework for their future from the very start.  There must also be political will and trust from both the Government and the non-State armed groups to see the process through.  Military operations must complement the peace process by ensuring continuous human rights training, which encouraged similar action by non-State armed groups.  Parallel to those was the need to strengthen and clarify the national legal framework for the protection of children and render effective the regional and international role in monitoring compliance by non-State armed groups of their obligations.  Efforts must focus on accountability and sanctions, he said, adding that documentation could be used as a tool not just to publicize abuses but also progress made by non-State armed groups.

ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi) said hundreds of thousands of children were recruited against their will into Government and non-State armed forces, exposing them to mental and physical harm.  Abductions and sexual abuse had become new modes of terror and fear instilled by armed extremist groups.  While Governments had recognized that there was no place for the recruitment of children, the practice was being continued by non-State groups.  The experience of warfare had devastating long-term physical and psychological consequences on children and impeded efforts to build lasting peace and stability.  Accepting the use of child soldiers was tantamount to robbing the future.  Young girls were even more vulnerable and were often the preferred targets of non-State armed groups.  The scale of the challenge called for more sustained deliberations and vigorous action on liberating child soldiers from the grip of unscrupulous groups as well as ensuring their long-term rehabilitation and reintegration.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) urged more coordination between the child protection system and the sanctions regimes, making it easier to place those measures on perpetrators of such abuse.  The tenth anniversary of resolution 1612 (2005) required evaluating the challenges ahead.  Noting that Argentina was party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol, she said child protection must be taken into account in the mandates of peacekeeping and special political missions.  Legal frameworks that prevented children from being recruited as soldiers were needed.  Birth registration was important in that regard.  In reintegration efforts, child victims of recruitment must be recognized as rights-holders.  As for combating impunity, she recalled that in March 2012, the International Criminal Court had found Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting children under age 15 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) welcomed the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, calling on all parties to immediately cease unlawful attacks against schools, students and teachers.  Poorly educated children were often the easiest targets for armed groups and thus strengthening education in conflict areas should be an utmost priority.  Recent attacks by Boko Haram and Da’esh, which included the kidnapping and selling of girls to terrorists, called for more coordinated international efforts, including specific attention to the girls’ protection.  Child protection provisions should be included in all peace negotiations and agreements, he said, noting that the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, signed in Algiers this month, contained such provisions, including for communities to support the return of children to school.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that the increasing use of child soldiers in armed conflicts demonstrated the urgent need for a new international consensus to confront the scourge through universal affirmation of its abominable evil, not only by Governments but also by social, political and religious leaders.  National interests must not interfere with the fight to protect children.  When a State is unable or unwilling to protect children and minorities from brutal violence, it was the responsibility of the Council to provide the humanitarian, diplomatic and, when all other tools and means were exhausted, military means to protect civilians.  Faith-based communities could play a vital role in serving impacted communities, reintegrating former child soldiers and providing means for dialogue.  Faith-based communities also had the responsibility to ensure that those organizations that sought to justify the use of child soldiers in support of distorted faith were rightly condemned and denounced.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), aligning with the European Union, emphasized his country’s support for the recommendations towards further strengthening the role of the International Criminal Court in ensuring accountability for crimes committed by non-State armed groups against children.  While the world was witnessing horrific violence committed by extremist non-State armed groups, prevention alone was not enough.  Greater efforts were needed to successfully reintegrate children exposed to armed conflict.  There should be a special focus throughout on the protection of girls, who were particularly vulnerable in armed conflicts.  It was crucial to pay continued attention to the specific needs of children during and after armed conflict as part of effective government policy.

YOUSEF SULTAN LARAM (Qatar) said the current challenges being discussed required commitment and action by Member States, as violations against children constituted war crimes.  Perpetrators often escaped with impunity and they must be brought to justice, he said, welcoming the Council resolution urging protection of schools against use by armed forces and groups in times of conflict.  Children had a right to education, which provided the skills and knowledge necessary for their growth and for building strong societies.  Qatar had established a national initiative with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide education, especially for children affected by conflict.  The Secretary-General’s report had shed light on the role being played by parties to a conflict and underscored their responsibility to protect children.  The children in the occupied Arab territories and in Syria bore the brunt of suffering, he said, urging the international community to address the underlying causes.

ÁLVARO MENDONÇA E MOURA (Portugal), aligning with the European Union, said that protecting children from the ravages of war was a moral imperative and an issue of international peace and security.  However, despite the establishment of a strong normative framework, enormous challenges remained due, in particular, to the changing nature of conflicts.  The Council must continue to strive to find the best way to promote the protection of children and to better respond to the tremendous brutality of non-State armed groups.  In that context, he welcomed the action plans that had been signed, but stressed that more needed to be done to engage non-State groups and garner the cooperation of concerned Governments in that effort.  Abduction should be included among triggers for listing in the annual report, impunity should be more strongly addressed, Child Protection Advisers and training should be better incorporated into missions and schools must be better protected from utilization for military purpose, he emphasized.

KYAW TIN (Myanmar), aligning himself with ASEAN, expressed support for the Children, Not Soldiers campaign.  In that light, he hoped to see national security forces delisted by 2016.  The army had accelerated its action plan to end underage recruitment in cooperation with the United Nations country task force.  All steps outlined in the action plan had been implemented.  United Nations monitoring visits were given access to military facilities and to some border guard forces and no complaint went unchecked.  The Government and the United Nations had agreed on the remaining steps to move the action plan forward.  Delisting of eligible Government armed forces would positively influence non-State armed groups to follow suit.  He also said the Council should focus more on non-State armed groups, but cautioned against dealing with them directly.  Rather, such interactions should be conducted in consultation with concerned Governments, who bore the primary responsibility for protecting their civilians.  His Government was also accelerating its peace process with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, comprised of all non-State armed groups, to end its six-decade-long conflicts.

BOGUSLAW WINID (Poland), aligning with the European Union, urged the international community to undertake every possible effort to eradicate root causes and consequences of the engagement of children in armed conflict.  All those responsible for violations and abuses should be held accountable, including by referring the most severe cases to the International Criminal Court.  The United Nations was guided by Council resolution 1612 (2005), he said, stressing the importance of its partners, including regional organizations, in implementing it in their field activities.  Child protection should also be addressed in peacemaking processes.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa), condemning attacks on and recruitment of children, said that all children deserved protection, not exploitation; they belonged in schools and not in armies or fighting groups.  He supported the range of initiatives to end child abuse in conflict and called for more to be done to address abuses by non-State armed groups as well as to allow access to education and other services during periods of conflict.  He strongly condemned the “mass atrocities” committed by extremist groups such as Boko Haram.  South Africa would continue to support reintegration of child soldiers into their communities as well as child-protection training for peacekeepers.  He also stressed the linkage between security for vulnerable groups and development.

YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) said, “The problems of today’s children will become those of adults in 10 years,” stressing that armed conflict deprived children of education and created lost generations.  Given the crimes of ISIL and Boko Haram, the issue was even more pressing now and the Paris Principles on the topic ever more relevant, as was the campaign Children, Not Soldiers.  Unfortunately, the progress made by such initiatives was far from sufficient.  Responding to the appeal for funding for further work, Japan therefore supported main projects in the Middle East and Africa in partnership with UNICEF to promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers.  Turning to the increasing involvement of non-State actors, he said it was necessary to engage them carefully, starting with attempts to convince those with which the United Nations was already in contact to renounce the recruitment of children.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), aligning with the European Union, stressed the need for an integrated approach to prevent abuses of children’s rights by non-State armed groups.  More capacity and resources must be invested in mediation by the Organization and mandates of missions should be well coordinated to coherently address the issue of child protection.  Girls were especially vulnerable targets of sexual violence.  The acts of some extremist groups against girls were abhorrent.  A stronger focus on child protection was needed in sanctions committees, which could be achieved by considering more direct ways of enhancing information and promoting cooperation between expert groups.  The Council should play a more active role in the documentation and monitoring of crimes against children and should therefore expand the listing criteria to include abductions.

STEPHEN EVANS, Assistant Secretary-General for Operations at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said protecting children was a “moral imperative”.  For its part, NATO had taken several steps to implement resolution 1612 (2005), including launching an online course to raise awareness.  At NATO’s Summit in Wales in 2014, Heads of State and Government had expressed their deep concern about the damaging effects of armed conflict on children.  Last week, the Alliance had issued a policy paper that provided military authorities with further guidance on integrating resolution 1612 (2005) into the group’s doctrine, education, training and exercises.  Despite daily horrifying reports about atrocities committed against children, it was possible, through concerted efforts, to make crimes against children a thing of the past.  Yet there was a long way to go, he concluded, adding that NATO would continue to work towards the goal set out at the Wales Summit.

PAIK JI-AH (Republic of Korea) said children’s protection in armed conflict demanded common and urgent efforts, calling on more States to join child protection-related legal frameworks, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.  Expressing deep concern that abuse of children was being exacerbated by extremist non-State armed groups, such as ISIL and Boko Haram, he supported inclusion of abduction by those groups as a violation that could trigger a listing in the Secretary-General’s annexes.  Targeted sanctions by the Council could be an effective deterrent and he expressed hope it would consider a rule to include serious violations against children as designation criteria.  He urged national and regional leaders in conflict areas to redouble efforts to find peaceful solutions.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said his country had sought in vain to draw attention to the recruitment of Syrian children in areas controlled by Da’esh, Islamic Front, Army of Islam and other armed groups that used children aged 5 to 15 years, who brainwashed them in training camps, preparing them to conduct fatwahs and become “bearded criminals”.  Those groups had decreed there would be no education until school books were brought in line with religious rulings.  More than 670,000 Syrian students had been deprived an education.  In 2015 alone, 85 children had been killed and 224 wounded in his country, a fact communicated to the Council on 23 March.  His Government had taken legal measures to prevent children’s recruitment into combat, notably a 6 May 2013 decree, while the Ministry of Social Affairs had identified safe areas for children following their liberation from armed groups.  He urged an end to Government policies that supported terrorism and the implementation of Council resolution 2199 (2015) among others.  Syria needed assistance to reintegrate children into their communities.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said too many children were victims of conflicts, which were becoming more complex than ever.  Extreme violence perpetrated by extremists, including Boko Haram and Da’esh, was shocking the world, leaving the international community with an enormous challenge that had the greatest consequences on children.  Condemning all forms of violence against children and attacks on hospitals and schools, he said existing efforts were insufficient.  A multidimensional approach was needed, beginning with understanding the root causes of conflict.  Efforts should, among other things, span all stakeholders, including civil society and the media.  However, the primary responsibility for protecting children rested with the parties to a conflict.

LEVENT ELER (Turkey) said the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry highlighted the deterioration of children’s rights in Syria.  Nearly 4 million Syrians had fled that country and Turkey had an “open door” policy for them.  Underscoring the imperative to overcome the growing needs of Syrian children, he said there were nearly 550,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey, with some 70,000 receiving education in temporary protection centres.  As 480,000 children outside those centres also needed schooling, Turkey had made education a vital part of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan.  Robust political determination and action were the most crucial tools for addressing the issue of children and armed conflict.  Signing documents with non-State armed groups could easily lead to exploitation of the issue, however, and encourage groups to use those documents as propaganda to claim legitimacy.  International organizations and non-governmental organizations should refrain from their use, including in the form of so-called “deeds of commitments” with terrorist organizations. 

TÉTE ANTÓNIO, Permanent Observer of the African Union, said that in the continent, more than anywhere else, conflict had had disastrous effects on development and children.  Terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army had committed sexual violence, killings and maiming against children.  The African Union was working to protect them through its legal arsenal, which included the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.  Its peacekeeping operations in Burundi, Darfur, Mali and the Central African Republic also had significantly contributed to that work.  The 17 September 2013 agreement between the African Union Peace and Security Commission and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict had placed children’s protection at the heart of all peace and security efforts.  He urged support for Africa’s endeavours to ensure that inclusive development benefitted children.

JORGE DOTTA (Uruguay) said children affected by armed groups required equal protection, urging an end to their recruitment by security forces or armed groups.  Expressing concern about the situation of the 14 million children in Syria, he said another 2 million children lived in camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.  Conflict in Iraq meant that more than 2.8 million Syrian children lived in areas controlled by armed groups.  He supported the call for countries that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol.  Most children were recruited by their own States, which was unacceptable, and Uruguay sought to play an active role in that regard in the General Assembly.  He urged respect for the rights enshrined in the Convention’s article 28, and for more attention to be paid to the work of the International Criminal Court.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), speaking for ASEAN, welcomed progress in implementing all Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict, yet expressed concern at the growing number of children affected by such violations.  He particularly condemned the increasing cases of child abduction and attacks targeting schools and hospitals.  He urged States, United Nations entities, international and regional organizations and other stakeholders to redouble efforts to address challenges posed by violent non-State armed groups.  However, interactions between the United Nations and non-State armed groups should conform to the principle that States bore primary responsibility for protecting their civilians, including children, during armed conflict.

Further, he said, different measures of engagement were required for different types of non-State armed actors and should be undertaken within a broader strategy of conflict prevention and response.  That strategy should address conflict’s root causes.  In addition, child protection concerns should be reflected in peace processes and agreements and children’s particular needs must be included in post-conflict planning.  He noted that all ASEAN member States were parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and were implementing their obligations at the national level, while working closely with international partners.

NILUKA PRABHATH KADURUGAMUWA (Sri Lanka) said that during the almost three-decades long civil conflict in his country, one of the most complex and painful issues had been the “horror” of terrorist groups recruiting boys and girls as combatants and suicide cadres.  With the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, a total of 594 child combatants between 12 and 18 years of age had surrendered.  They were not criminally prosecuted but considered victims of the conflict, and were rehabilitated and reintegrated through the provision of education, recreation and vocational training.  They also received psychological support.  Those positive developments led the United Nations to de-list Sri Lanka from annex II of the Secretary-General’s report on child combatants in 2012.  There were three effective methods to reduce recruitment by non-State actors.  First among them was putting political and economic pressure on offending parties while strengthening law and order.  Second was mobilizing resources for rehabilitation, and third was addressing the socioeconomic and political ideological dynamics that could be used to lure children by non-State actors for their so-called “causes”.

Mr. YAREMENKO (Ukraine) said his country had suffered from Russian aggression for more than a year and children were among those who had suffered most.  Reiterating Ukraine’s strong commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said the Russian Federation’s actions had blatantly violated that instrument.  He urged that country to cease its subversive activity, which had caused immense suffering, mainly to women and children, in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by illegal armed groups.  He reiterated Ukraine’s appeal for the Council to respond to such actions in the temporarily occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  Citing child abductions by Russian-sponsored terrorist groups in eastern Ukraine, including from orphanages and medical facilities, he said orphans were being illegally moved outside the country and killed as a result of activities by the Russian-backed illegal armed groups.  Also, UNICEF data had shown that some 64 children had been killed and 170 wounded in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict.

RY TUY (Cambodia), aligning with ASEAN, said that his country, having emerged from conflict, was resolved to protect children and their rights in situations of armed conflicts.  Of the thousands of children serving as soldiers across the world, some were conscripted, while others were abducted and forced into armed combat.  Still others joined on their own, out of desperation, and instilled with the wrong ideology of the non-State armed groups.  The world must address how poverty, discrimination, lack of education, social exclusion and inequality only perpetuated the cycle of violence.  The ongoing intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda could inform the means of implementation on issues relating to child protection in armed conflicts.

HASSAN HAMID HASSAN (Sudan) lauded the decision to hold the current debate as it was clear that children were the victims of aggression, including in his country, where abductions had continued to be committed by rebel movements.  Issues of protecting children and their rights were among his Government’s priorities.  For its part, Sudan had taken a number of steps, including ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols as well as other international instruments.  The Sudanese armed forces and police had prohibited child recruitment and protection mechanisms had been set up, he said, adding that the Government had also established a national council on children.  Efforts were also ongoing to protect the status of children, including by a task force that aided those affected by emergency situations.  Work was also under way to finalize an action plan on children in conflict areas.  As such, he requested that Sudan be de-listed from the annex in the Secretary-General’s report.  It was important to address pertinent issues, including targeting the root causes of recruiting children.

ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan) said that on 16 December 2014 the “enemies of Afghanistan” massacred more than 120 people, all civilians, the majority of whom were children playing volleyball.  Such incidents were vivid examples of the impact of conflict on children’s lives.  He noted that continuing violence against the Afghan people had resulted in a 48 per cent increase in child casualties.  The conflict had left young boys and girls vulnerable to exploitation by extremist groups, including those affiliated with ISIL, who regularly targeted children to carry out their evil agendas.  Children whose families had been killed often became the sole breadwinners in the family, leading them to try to join the national and local police or the army, even falsifying their age in order to join.  In an effort to protect children, the Government enacted a law in November 2014 prohibiting underage recruitment in security institutions and in August of that year endorsed a road map to accelerate implementation of the action plan to end such recruitment.  A series of measures had also been put in place to raise public awareness.  As national security forces had assumed responsibility for providing security throughout the country, he called on the United Nations to consider withdrawing the Afghan National Police and Afghan Local Police from the Secretary-General’s blacklist.

MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ (Montenegro) said the evolving character of contemporary conflicts had put the world at risk of losing entire generations in Syria, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and other countries.  While the Council had made progress in advancing the children and armed conflict agenda, much remained to be done in protecting their rights and ending impunity for perpetrators.  The momentum generated by the Children, Not Soldiers campaign was encouraging, but the challenges ahead were enormous to reach its objective of ending child recruitment in 2016.  To do so, collective action and shared expertise and resources were essential.  The Council’s working group continued to use the best tools to provide appropriate responses to grave violations, including those committed by non-State actors, he said, reminding Member States to allow United Nations personnel to access zones of armed non-State actors for the purpose of ending violations and concluding and implementing action plans.  Also, child protection needed to be included in United Nations peacekeeping mission mandates.

HUSNIYYA MAMMADOVA (Azerbaijan) said children were among the first to suffer from the effects of war.  The Council should focus on conflict prevention and resolution, while all parties to conflict should implement their international legal commitments and stop violence against civilians, especially children.  The ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia had been violated and Azerbaijani children had been targeted in indiscriminate attacks.  By way of example, she cited the names of five children, aged 5 to 17 years, who had been seriously wounded by Armenian snipers.  Combating impunity was an important part of sustaining peace and reconciliation.  She called for more efforts to reduce the grave impact of conflict on children by holding to account the perpetrators of such abuse, including known State actors and those who fed them ideologically and financially.  Internally displaced children should be ensured their inalienable right of return.

CHARLOTTE OMOY MALENGA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said children were, as this Council met, being detained and recruited by armed groups in her country.  Thousands had been victims of violent attacks and had been used as soldiers, messengers, slaves, spies and smugglers as well as in mining radioactive minerals.  Many children who survived those threats were traumatized and, in times of conflicts, often lacked access to schools, leaving them vulnerable for recruitment by armed groups.  To address those issues, her Government, with international partners, had invested in fighting violations against children’s rights, including child recruitment.  Efforts were also being made to eradicate armed groups and end impunity for perpetrators of crimes against children.  Her Government was determined to continue its efforts to eradicate child recruitment, she said, thanking Ms. Zerrougui, the United Nations and other partners.

JEAN-FRANCIS RÉGIS ZINSOU (Benin) said despite significant gains since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), the phenomenon of child soldiers had persisted.  The very nature of conflicts and tactics used by armed groups had also changed, with an absence of clear battle lines, the takeover of schools and hospitals for combat purposes, and massacres of villages and mass abductions by such groups as Boko Haram.  To be effective, efforts to stamp out the use of children as soldiers must integrate international instruments, including the Paris Principles.  States must focus on strengthening national mechanisms and take action towards the release of child soldiers and their rehabilitation, he said, strongly supporting the signing of action plans by parties to a conflict.  Impunity must also end, he continued, lauding the International Criminal Court’s conviction of Mr. Lubanga for recruiting children.

MARIANNE ODETTE BIBALOU (Gabon) said shocking crimes against children committed by armed extremist groups were an abomination.  Already traumatized by war, children were more frequently than ever before directly affected by armed groups, as could be seen with Boko Haram, which was using and killing children.  The international community must act swiftly, she said, emphasizing the value of preventive measures, including providing education to tackle poverty, since lack thereof was leading some youths to voluntarily join armed groups.  Gabon had, for its part, adhered to all international instruments on child protection and congratulated the signing, in 2013, of an agreement by the African Union, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and UNICEF aimed at better protecting African children affected by conflict.  Going forward, she said, tailored measures should be reinforced and States must ensure that violators were held accountable.

Mr. ZAGAYNOV of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, said Ukraine was trying to use any possibility to repeat its unjustified comments against his country.  The Russian Federation was providing assistance to children, whose suffering was due to Ukraine’s use of force in the eastern regions.  He hoped there would be no more child victims in the conflict.  For that, it was necessary to respect the Minsk Agreement.  Despite that more than a month had passed since its signing, Kyiv had not done anything to stabilize the situation in the east, including for children. 

The blockade of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions continued, he said.  No pension payments had been made nor efforts to restart banking, or establish medicine supplies.  There was a need to immediately address such problems that had led to children’s suffering.  He was alarmed at the situation of hundreds of children who needed immediate medical assistance and suggested that his Ukrainian counterpart address those concerns.

NELLY SHILO of Israel said it was surprising to hear the Palestinian delegation discuss Gaza without mentioning Hamas, which had fired tens of thousands of rockets into Israel.  Instead of playing outside, Israeli children practiced running to shelters to save their lives.  Hamas had used schools and hospitals to store rockets, only to then fire them at Israeli schools.  Using Gaza’s children as human shields, Hamas had put them in the frontline.  In contrast, Israel had done its utmost to protect both Israeli and Palestinian children.  Blaming Israel was easier than taking meaningful steps to improve the situation.  If Palestinians were so eager to find a way forward based on the two-State solution, she asked why they had formed a unity Government with Hamas terrorists devoted to Israel’s destruction.

Mr. YAREMENKO of Ukraine said that in the information war launched by the Russian Federation against his country, his Government was using the only weapon available in defence:  “We are telling the truth,” he said.  International relations understood one thing:  trust — which was difficult to build and easy to destroy.  He recalled the Russian Federation documentary entitled Crimea:  return to the Fatherland, in which the Russian President had explained the special operation was used to annex the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.  That was the fourth version of events that had taken place a year ago, he said, the first of which had begun with a position that there were no military forces in Crimea.

REEM JULIA MANSOUR of the State of Palestine said her delegation’s statements had conveyed the stark life for children under Israel’s occupation.  Israel claimed that Palestinians had incited their children or sent them into harm’s way.  That was typical of Israeli policy and racist behaviour.  Israel was harming Palestinian children by arresting them, demolishing their homes, denying them education and using them as human shields — as had been seen during its summer aggression in Gaza, she said, citing the example of one child forced to do so for five days.  She condemned the violence against all children, calling on the Israeli side to do the same.  The only way to give Palestinian and Israeli children the life they deserved was for Israel to end its occupation.  Her Government was still committed to the two-State solution.

Taking the floor again, Mr. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) thanked Ukraine’s delegate for his intervention but noted that it had no link to the theme of the day’s discussion.

For information media. Not an official record.