Despite global commitments and efforts, children around the world continue to suffer from the consequences of conflicts and are still being used as expendable fuel of war.
Armed forces and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, tearing them away from their families and communities, cruelly stripping away their dignity and destroying their lives and their future. Only a fraction of those released are benefiting from reintegration programmes. Insecurity prevents thousands of children from accessing quality education and health care while schools and hospitals continue to be targeted. Despite being victims, children remain unlawfully in detention for their alleged or actual association with armed forces and groups.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is daunting: poverty and lack of opportunities increase even further push and pull factors for child recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups as well as sexual violence or abduction. Education opportunities, already disrupted by war and displacement, are further vanishing. Children are tragically paying the highest price and we have the joint responsibility to build a sustainable system that protects all children at all times.
With one voice, the EU High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission and the UN Special Representative reiterate their commitment to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict, secure their release, and ensure their reintegration.
We stand ready to respond to the urgent education needs of children, as education is crucial in preventing the recruitment and use of children.
No one has the right to steal children´s dreams or their innocence. The EU and the UN stand together to make sure that all children, wherever they are, experience a childhood free from violence and with access to education. Children have a key role to play in building a present and a future where peace will prevail. It is our responsibility to enable them to be such agents of change.
As we approach the 25th Anniversary of the mandate of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the EU expresses its continued strong support for the Special Representative, her Office and the children and armed conflict mandate.
The protection of children in armed conflict is a priority for the EU. The EU’s Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) adopted in November 2020 sets out concrete objectives to do so. This political commitment is supported by development and humanitarian projects, including in Colombia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen. These projects contribute to preventing and responding to violence, provide psychosocial support, assist in family tracing and reunification, and support the release and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups. In recognition of the crucial role of education, the EU allocates 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies across the world, amounting to €115 million in 2020. The upcoming EU strategy on the rights of the child led by the Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Demography and Democracy, Dubravka Šuica, will cover both the internal and the external action. It will include actions to prevent and respond to violence against children, both in the EU and globally, including in conflict situations.
The Office of the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict launched a year ago the Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict, which aims to ensure a more systematic inclusion of the protection of children into mediation efforts, peace negotiations and agreements.
The guidance includes recommendations on child-sensitive release and reintegration efforts. The Special Representative also launched together with UNICEF the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers to understand how the international community could more effectively support children who have exited armed forces and groups. Additional advocacy tools include the ongoing campaign ACT to Protect children affected by conflict that aims to generate greater awareness and action to protect children affected by war.