On 8 September, 2014 the Security Council held an Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict. Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Yoka Brandt, Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, Forest Whitaker, and a former child victim of armed conflict from the Democratic Republic of Congo delivered statements at the debate’s outset.
The Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ms. Zerrougui, opened the debate noting the multitude of crises affecting children since the beginning of 2014. Ms. Zerrougui condemned the total disregard for human life exhibited by extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram. “ISIL has tasked boys as young as 13 to carry weapons, guard strategic locations or arrest civilians. Other children are used as suicide bombers,” she said.
Representatives from 58 member states and regional groups took the floor, including the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, H.E. Mr. Jean Asselborn. Speakers noted an increase in harmful practices affecting children in conflict contexts, including sexual violence, attacks on schools, and child recruitment. Many praised Ms. Zerrougui and her office for overseeing a campaign aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children by government forces in conflict by 2016 entitled “Children, Not Soldiers,” launched earlier this year.
Taking the floor, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, noted the recent upsurge in violence against children in wartime worldwide. “Children around the world suffer enormously as a result of war, violence and armed conflict,” he said. “This devastating reality is even more widespread today due to the upsurge of bloody conflict and brutal extremism in Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan and around the world.”
Speaking about his own country, the Ambassador noted that in Afghanistan children have suffered for over 30 years as a result of long conflict, and that resurgent conflict and pernicious extremism continue to cause children tremendous suffering. Afghan children, he said, are “exploited by terrorists who force them to serve as combatants, suicide attackers, manufacturers and planters of IEDs, and even sex slaves.” They are denied their right to education by terrorist groups who intimidate girls and their teachers from attending classes, and who attack schools, plant IEDs inside school premises, and detonate IEDs and suicide bombs near classrooms.
According to the May 2014 report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, in 2013 there were at least 73 incidents of attacks against schools in Afghanistan and hundreds of schools in the country closed a result of the fragile security situation, affecting approximately 115,000 children in total.
Ambassador Tanin continued by expressing the Government of Afghanistan’s commitment to enhancing child protection throughout the country. He noted the Government’s National Action Plan aimed at ending and preventing the recruitment of children in the Afghan National Security Forces, signed in 2011. This commitment, the Ambassador said, was reaffirmed on 1 August through the endorsement of a Road Map towards Compliance.
Ambassador Tanin concluded his statement by emphasizing that while Afghanistan faces profound challenges in its fight to find peace, the Government is committed to doing its utmost to end child recruitment and enhance child protection in the country. “As Afghanistan looks towards a bright new future with the conclusion of the elections process,” he said, “we hope to strive towards an Afghanistan in which all children are able to live in freedom and in peace, and the horrors of war and violence are but distant facts of history.”