Co-written by Gwen Hines (CEO, Save the Children UK) Rob Williams (CEO, War Child UK)
The carnage we have witnessed in Ukraine over the past two months has reminded us, if need be, that all wars are fought against children. Yet, while 2022 will forever be remembered for the return of a major conflict in Europe, this year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Children and armed conflict (CAAC). This is an important step and an opportunity for us to review our progress and reflect on the way forward to better protect children from conflict. Save the Children and War Child remain firmly committed to this agenda, and we are particularly keen to see CAAC issues elevated, improved and better integrated into UK foreign policy and priorities.
Over the past 25 years, CAAC’s mandate has directly and indirectly protected millions of children.
Despite this, children continue to suffer from the six grave violations. They continue to be recruited into the armed forces, abducted, killed and maimed, sexually assaulted, their schools and hospitals attacked and denied access to life-saving assistance and services, among many other horrific acts.
In April, War Child and Save the Children co-sponsored a Wilton Park Workshop where states, UN agencies and organizations working on the CAAC came together to chart the way forward for the agenda. We had the privilege of hearing directly from young people living in conflict talking about their experiences and especially their recommendations to the international community to effectively improve the protection of children in conflict. We agreed on a roadmap for the future in the form of practical solutions and proposals. We hope the UK will continue to show global leadership in protecting children in conflict by ensuring that the CAAC program is integrated with UK foreign policy and military priorities.
In 2022, new conflicts – as well as protracted ones – continue to threaten children’s rights, including their fundamental rights to live, learn and be protected.
The latest outbreak of conflict in Ukraine shows that war will continue to affect children for generations to come. The nature of conflict and instability has changed, and we must find new ways to respond, we will need to go further and faster to protect children trapped in some of the world’s most dangerous places.
Before the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, 160 million children were already living in areas of high-intensity conflict, and more than 250,000 grave violations against children have been verified by the UN since 2005. While our government has positively engaged with this program to date, its comprehensive approach is lacking. consistency, coordination and accountability.
The new Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) Conflict Strategy is a critical opportunity to set out a comprehensive, cross-government approach that includes embedding minimum standards and raising awareness of CAAC issues within the FCDO; more effective partnership and coordination between the FCDO and the Ministry of Defence, and stronger ministerial ownership. On that note, we are delighted to have had such positive engagement from Minister Vicky Ford who is quickly becoming a champion in all things CAAC.
The strategy should set out how the UK will use all diplomatic, political, legal and financial levers at its disposal to hold perpetrators of grave violations against children to account. These include committing to funding international investigative mechanisms and maintaining funding to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG).
It should also set out the steps the UK government will take to galvanize support and strengthen the effective implementation of the Safe Schools Statement, the Paris Principles and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. There should be a commitment to include practical training on CAACs and relevant child protection standards in all military training, both domestically and with allies overseas.
We also need to see a mobilization of support for the thousands of children who endure the devastating experience of being drawn into armed groups each year.
Preventing their recruitment and helping children reintegrate into their communities after being involved in armed groups should be a major commitment shared by the international community.
In the next month, we will see the publication of the CAAC annual report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The report and its registration process are a critically important call to action, but for them to be fully effective they must be credible, objective and evidence-based and accompanied by concrete and practical commitment. between the United Nations and the listed parties. Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict The ‘credible list’ report remains an extremely valuable resource in this regard.
At Wilton Park, many colleagues spoke about the need for a reinvigorated approach to grave breaches data collection, the need for the CAAC agenda to be more proactive in the preventive space, and the importance of child participation and doing more with children, not for them. . Despite the grim situation of so many millions of children in conflict, the CAAC agenda remains a beacon of hope for a better future.