Twenty-four hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.
In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.
The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”
In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.
“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.
U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.
“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.
Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.
“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.
2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.
Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.
Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”
Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin