The tragedy of children recruited and used in armed conflict must end – United Nations International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor – World

Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Rob Williams, CEO, War Child UK

Guy Ryder, ILO Director General

Frédérique was at school in Bambari, Central African Republic, when the militia attacked. Many people died in the hostilities, including his brother and mother. Devastated, Frédérique joined an armed group, seeking both protection and revenge for the deaths of her loved ones.

Frédérique’s story is shocking but unfortunately not uncommon. Armed conflict is a tragic reality for millions of children and in at least 20 countries around the world, girls and boys are recruited as soldiers, lookouts, porters, spies, cooks or sex slaves.

**The international community is committed to end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by 2025. The United Nations International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor (2021) provides an excellent opportunity for the international community to take concrete steps and accelerate action to end this scourge.**

Over the past 25 years, many countries have shown their commitment to protecting children from recruitment and use by parties to conflict by ratifying and implementing key international instruments, releasing all children from their ranks and implementing mitigation measures for their safety. such as age verification mechanisms, child protection training and military command orders.

However, progress remains too slow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional burden on protecting children affected by conflict. The closure of some of the most protective environments for children, namely schools and child-friendly spaces, coupled with the loss of family income, may have prompted parties to the conflict to take advantage of children’s heightened vulnerability or pushed children to join armed groups and forces or engage in other forms of exploitative labor to increase family income. The pandemic and associated containment measures have also made it more difficult for child rights organizations to monitor the recruitment and use of children and to implement education and training programs. helping to stop and prevent this practice.

The recent ILO and UNICEF report Global estimates of child labor for 2020 show that for the first time in the past two decades, progress to end child labor has stalled and the numbers are starting to rise again. At least 160 million children are currently engaged in child labor and many more are at risk.

A renewed international commitment is needed to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children once and for all by 2025 and to prevent more children from being pushed into this worst form of child labor as a result of COVID-19.

For Frédérique and all children who have suffered at the hands of armed forces or groups, separation is only the first step on a long and difficult road to healing. International law recognizes released or separated children as victims of serious human rights violations that require long-term support. Yet too many people do not receive adequate assistance and run the risk of being re-recruited, trapped in other forms of child labour, exposed to human trafficking or detained for their association with an armed group.

Moving forward better means governments must put the needs of girls and boys at the center of COVID-19 recovery plans and put in place reintegration services to allow children associated with parties to conflict to resume their lives. life in hand. Reintegration programs should also recognize the high levels of distress children have experienced and provide holistic support combining physical recovery, psychological care, family reunification, education, social protection and social reintegration assistance. , politics and economics in civilian life.

To this end, the international community must provide long-term and predictable funding, as these holistic child reintegration programs contribute to sustainable recovery, development, as well as reconciliation, prevention and peace efforts. A significant portion of funding should also be directed to community initiatives and organizations working on the front lines, as they are best placed to assess the needs and aspirations of children and communities.

Helping communities identify and work towards their own solutions is key to the success of reintegration programs and requires that we, the international community, change the way we support reintegration in a way that is deeply rooted in the needs of the child and of its community while building on existing resources and capacities.

This important year presents a unique opportunity for the international community to translate its commitments into action and to accelerate efforts to end and completely prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Governments, civil society, workers’ organizations and the private sector have the capacity to end this scourge and thus lay the foundations for peaceful societies.