Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council meeting on children and armed conflict today:
I thank the Government of Estonia for convening today’s open debate on children and armed conflict.
Conflict devastates societies and hits children particularly hard. The start of 2021 has been no exception and, although monitoring of violations against children committed during 2021 will not be reported until my report of next year, I call on all parties to conflict to prioritize the prevention of violations against children and to engage in dialogue, ceasefires and peace processes.
During 2020, almost 24,000 grave violations were committed against 19,300 children in the 21 situations covered by this mandate. The disregard for children’s rights at times of conflict and upheaval is shocking and heart-breaking. The most prevalent verified violations continued to be the recruitment and use of children, the killing and maiming of children, and the denial of humanitarian access to children.
Moreover, new and deeply concerning trends emerged: an exponential increase in the number of children abducted, and in sexual violence against boys and girls. We are also seeing schools and hospitals, constantly attacked, looted, destroyed or used for military purposes, with girls’ educational and health facilities targeted disproportionately.
As we mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of the children and armed conflict mandate, its continued relevance is sadly clear, and it remains a proven tool for protecting the world’s children. My Special Representative and the United Nations on the ground, along with civil society and other partners, are fully mobilized to better protect children and to prevent violations against them from occurring in the first place.
To do this, they use all available tools put in place by this Council’s 13 resolutions on ending and preventing violations against children. They monitor and document violations, engage with parties to conflict and develop action plans and commitments. They advocate for the release of children, provide technical and capacity-building assistance, and support this Council’s working group on children and armed conflict.
The annual report, with its accountability and engagement components, is a crucial instrument. As a result, 17 action plans are being implemented and at least 35 new commitments were made by parties to conflict during 2020. Last year alone, more than 12,300 children were released.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added new dimensions to this vital work — and new stresses. I salute the dedication and professionalism of United Nations staff and partners, who adapted swiftly to support host countries in the pandemic response and ensure the continued monitoring of violations while engaging with conflict parties on behalf of children. I cannot stress enough the need to fund child-protection positions in the field, as our ability to protect children rests on the presence of such staff.
There are many challenges to be overcome if we aim to better protect children and prevent violations against them in the years to come. This agenda is central to conflict resolution and prevention. As armed conflicts evolve and as children face multiple threats, the framework for the protection of children must also adapt. We need to ensure the inclusion of child protection language in peace processes, and to enhance data analysis, early warning and advocacy for early action.
The report now before you is grim. But we can also draw hope from the local and international commitments to this work; from the efforts of our child protection specialists; and, most importantly, in hearing the voice of the children behind the numbers. I applaud the young people, who, after enduring so much trauma and pain, still stand up for, and help, others.
We need to elevate children’s voices and best interests in peace processes and political decision-making. Last year, Member States asked me to develop a vision to better address current and future challenges to advance our common agenda; now children, youth and future generations must be an important part of this effort and I will do everything possible to highlight this aspect.
I call on the Security Council and all Member States to strongly support the protection of children in all ways at all times. There is no place for children in conflict, and we must not allow conflict to trample on the rights of children.