International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers: Joint statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell and UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Virginia Gamba
Children around the world remain disproportionally affected by armed conflicts. They are forced to experience unbearable levels of violence, deprived of their childhood and their right to an education, and are left with deep physical and psychological scars that last a lifetime.
Despite being victims, children recruited into armed forces or armed groups often face stigma.
Protecting children amidst conflicts from violations and abuses is at the forefront of our efforts.
With one voice, we continue to call for the universal ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) to end once and for all recruitment and use of children under 18 years. We encourage all partners to endorse other international instruments such as the Paris Principles and Commitments, the Safe Schools Declaration, and the Vancouver Principles.
To end and prevent child recruitment and to reintegrate victims, we are actively supporting family and community-focused programmes that are conflict, gender and age-sensitive, as well as disability-inclusive. Employing a Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus approach, effective programmes must address not only children’s most urgent humanitarian needs, but also their long-term and sustainable access to health care, mental health and psycho-social support, and education. Measures to ensure sustainable and longer-term financial support are needed.
The children and armed conflict agenda needs to be fully integrated into all peace and security-related activities and throughout the conflict cycle, including in conflict analysis, early warning, peace processes and mediation, and security sector support.
Understanding the perspective of children and youth and their meaningful participation is key to sustainable outcomes and solutions.
All children must have a childhood free from violence. Children should be treated as children. Only this way can there be a peaceful tomorrow.
The protection of children in armed conflict is a priority for the EU. In 2022, approximately €285.5 million were allocated for protection in humanitarian settings, of which a significant part to activities targeting conflict-affected children. They included prevention and response to violence (including sexual violence), support to unaccompanied and separated children or to children associated with armed forces and groups, case management, registration and restoration of lost civil documentation, family tracing and reunification, release and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups and psycho-social support.
The EU also allocates 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies across the world, amounting to over €220 million in 2022. Humanitarian and long-term EU development and peacebuilding projects to assist conflict-affected continue in Colombia, Myanmar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen.
The EU’s commitment to the protection of conflict-affected children has further been reflected in the EU’s Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024), the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, the EU Joint Communication on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of former combatants, and related Council Conclusions, the Council Conclusions on the UN-EU strategic partnership on peace operations and crisis management: Priorities 2022-2024, the Strategic Compass for a stronger EU Security and Defence, the Council Conclusions on the Youth Action Plan, as well as in the Council Conclusions on the Civilian CSDP Compact.
In June 2022, a Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict to the EU was established, and, as of today, 21 Member States have joined. The EU will undertake an inclusive review process of the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict as well as their implementation plan to better reflect the new challenges facing children affected by armed conflict.
The Office of the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict stands ready to support the EU and its Member States in the review process and in the implementation of other relevant documents. Amongst other activities in 2022, the Office of the Special Representative published the study “The Gender Dimensions of Grave Violations Against Children in Armed Conflict” and launched, in cooperation with UNICEF, the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Guidance Note on Abduction of conflict-affected children.
In 2023, the Office plans to publish, amongst others, a discussion paper on climate insecurity and the six grave violations and a study on the impact of the six grave violations on children with disabilities in armed conflict. A Financing Innovation Forum will convene to discuss new ways to ensure that all children exiting conflict parties have access to short- and long-term sustainable reintegration support.