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I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
Firstly, I would like to warmly thank today's briefers — SRSG Gamba, Executive Director Fore, and Ms. Londoño. The SRSG, UNICEF and civil society all do essential work for the protection of children in conflict situations.
I would also like to thank the Swedish Presidency of the Council for organising today's debate, for their work, as well as the work of other Council members, on the resolution that the Council has just adopted, and for their unstinting efforts as Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The resolution provides a comprehensive framework for child protection, children’s rights, well-being and empowerment throughout the conflict cycle to prevent conflict and sustain peace.
And I must at this stage acknowledge the indispensable role of child protection experts working in countries affected by conflict, including child protection advisers in UN peacekeeping and political missions. They do vital work in challenging environments and they deserve the full support of all UN Member States.
The annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict sets out in detail how children in situations of armed conflict continue to be subjected to appalling violations of their human rights. They face an unacceptable risk of killing, maiming, recruitment and use, sexual violence and abductions, and suffer as the result of attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access. The annual report highlights the devastating impact of a number of protracted and new crises, and the figures are jarring. There were over 21,000 verified grave violations in 2017, with significant increases in a number of conflict situations.
The annual report plays a crucial role by providing us with verified and impartial information on violations, collected through the monitoring and reporting mechanism. The lists in the annexes of the annual report are an essential tool in holding the relevant parties accountable. But the annual report also documents the progress that has been achieved, which last year including the release of over 10000 children, the signature of one action plan, and the completion of another. Such progress would not be possible without the work of SRSG Gamba and her team, UNICEF and other UN actors, including UN peacekeeping child protection teams, and civil society. As an example, thanks in large part to the work of MINUSCA, a non-State armed group in the Central African Republic recently signed a new action plan to protect children. Also, the child protection team of MONUSCO has helped to separate
s thousands of children from non-State armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019), includes a clear commitment to support the Children and Armed Conflict Mandate, and we welcome the active role that SRSG Gamba has played since her appointment last year. Action Plans are an essential tool to end and prevent grave violations, and we encourage the SRSG in her efforts to engage with parties during field visits and to secure agreement on new action plans, as well as supporting the implementation and follow up of existing action plans. We welcome the SRSG's visits to Colombia, Sudan and Myanmar. Such field visits are of utmost importance. And we welcome her focus on cooperation with regional and sub-regional bodies, which have a crucial role to play.
The EU strongly supports the efforts that have been undertaken by the Secretary-General to pursue peace at all stages of conflict in a more efficient, effective and impactful way.
By protecting children, and ensuring that their human rights are respected, we build more stable and peaceful societies. And by properly supporting children after they have left armed forces or groups, we make them less vulnerable to re-recruitment, help to prevent the recurrence of conflict, and support their reintegration into communities, with the best interests of the child principle as a primary consideration. This requires long-term, sustainably funded, comprehensive and gender-sensitive reintegration programmes. We must recognise that children are recruited by groups that operate across borders, and design reintegration programmes accordingly.
We cannot wait until there is peace before taking steps to protect children, but instead integrate child protection into peace processes. As we have heard from today's briefers, commitments to protect children can also serve as a very effective confidence building measure during negotiations. We therefore welcome the launch of a process to compile practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes
We must identify ways to better prevent grave violations, including when they are committed across the borders. That is why it seems especially important to better understand the methods utilised by parties to target children, and to better combat the trafficking of children.
And we must not forget that children themselves can act as powerful agents for change and contribute to peacebuilding. Children should be empowered, and their views on matters that affect them should be effectively taken into account during peace processes.
Earlier this year we marked the 18th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, a crucial instrument in the legal framework for the protection of children. It has now been ratified by 167 States, including all EU Member States, and I take this opportunity to encourage all States who have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol.
All EU Member States have also endorsed the Paris Principles and the Paris Commitments. I call on all States who have not yet done to endorse the Paris Principles and Commitments.
We also welcome other initiatives that build on the existing framework in a complementary manner, such the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers.
Noting the crucial role of peacekeeping to preventing grave violations against children in armed conflict, we strongly encourage the inclusion of appropriate child protection provisions, including the prevention of recruitment and use of child soldiers, in all United Nations peacekeeping mandates, including for regional peacekeeping operations.
The Children and Armed Conflict agenda is a priority for the EU. In 2003, the EU adopted Guidelines on Children in Armed Conflict, which were later updated and supplemented by an implementation strategy. EU-funded projects provide vital assistance to children in a range of conflict situations. We support efforts to prevent recruitment and use, to secure the release of child soldiers, and to ensure their comprehensive and successful reintegration through long-term interventions, following a rights-based approach.
For example, in Uganda, the EU has helped South Sudanese children to access to psychosocial support and trauma treatment. In eastern Democratic Republic Congo, children affected by ongoing conflict and displacement have been able to get back to school. In Syria, the EU supports activities to assist unaccompanied and separated children, by providing shelter, protection and reintegration into their families or alternative care. In the Central African Republic, the EU is supporting the reintegration of children associated with armed groups, and the development of a protective environment to reinforce sustainable reintegration.
Education is central to preventing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups. In the EU's new Communication on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, children associated with armed forces and groups are specifically identified as a group to be prioritised for support to access education. The EU's commitment to education in emergencies is at 8% of its humanitarian aid budget in 2018, and will increase to 10% as of 2019, far above the global average. EU humanitarian funding has supported the education of over 5.5 million children in over 50 countries.
The EU is deeply concerned by the high rate of sexual violence against girls and boys in conflict. In 2017, the EU allocated almost €22 million in humanitarian aid for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence worldwide.
Girls are significantly affected by recruitment and use of armed forces and groups, with some estimates indicating that as many as 40 per cent of children associated with armed forces or armed groups are female. The EU seeks to ensure that the specific obstacles to the education of girls in emergencies are fully taken into account in its activities and programming. Girls should no longer constitute the invisible side of reintegration programs.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.