UN launches practical guidance for protection of children in conflict situations

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The United Nations on Wednesday in New York launched a “Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict”.

The event, held at the UN Security Council chambers, was part of activities marking the 2020 International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Among other things, the document contains guidelines for the integration of specific child protection measures into peace processes during conflict. In a briefing, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said children had no role in wars, yet millions of them are “caught up in armed conflicts in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets’’.

Guterres stated that children below 18 years of age “constitute more than 50 per cent of the populations of most countries affected by war’’. He added that children were also among the most vulnerable groups and were unable to protect themselves from the impact of conflict, adding that 250 million children lived in affected countries. According to a 2018 report by the Secretary-General, no fewer than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in 20 conflict situations monitored around the world that year. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria is captured in the report, which puts the verified number of children killed and maimed at 175 and 257 respectively. The report indicates that 46 girls were raped; 1,947 (comprising 1,596 boys and 351 girls) were recruited by the insurgents, and 180 abducted in 15 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2018. “Attacks on hospitals and schools deny children education, healthcare and lifesaving emergency assistance and force families from their homes. “Children may be subjected to horrific abuses in war zones, including sexual violence and abduction. “They may be trained to use deadly weapons, or exploited as cooks and messengers. “These violations cause lasting damage to the children themselves, and to their communities and societies. “They can feed the grievances and frustrations that lead to extremism, creating a vicious circle of tension and violence,’’ Guterres said in his briefing on Wednesday. The UN Chief said in spite of efforts by the organisation and some member states over the years to reverse the trend, grave violations against children in conflict remained on the rise. He said the Practical Guidance was the next step in “our strategy to put children at the heart of protection, peace building and prevention efforts’’. According to him, the document emphasises consideration of children’s needs and rights during all phases of conflict, from prevention efforts to mediation and recovery through sustainable, inclusive development. “The guidance is based on principles that outlaw discrimination and put children’s interests first. “It provides the means to conduct a child rights-based analysis of conflict for mediators and negotiators. “By integrating specific measures to protect children into peace processes, we can achieve concrete results for children, and for peace,’’ he said. Guterres, therefore, urged all actors in peace processes, including UN member states, parties to conflict and mediators to use and circulate the guidance for greater impact. He also enjoined countries to take concrete actions to prioritise the protection of children affected by conflict at the national, regional and global level.