Frédérique was at school in Bambari, Central African Republic, when the militia attacked. Many people died in the hostilities, including his brother and his mother. Devastated, Frédérique joined an armed group, seeking both protection and revenge for the deaths of those close to her.
Frederique’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 ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by 2025. The United Nations International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor (2021) provides the the international community an excellent opportunity to take concrete action and accelerate action to end this scourge.
Over the past 25 years, many countries have shown their commitment to protect children from recruitment and use by parties to conflict by ratifying and implementing key international instruments, freeing all children from their ranks. and putting in place mitigation measures for their safety. forces 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 the protection of children affected by conflict. The closure of some of the most protective environments for children, namely schools and child-friendly spaces, combined with the loss of family income, may have prompted parties to the conflict to take advantage of the increased vulnerability of children 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 children’s rights organizations to monitor the recruitment and use of children and to put in place education and health programs that contribute to the stop and prevent this practice.
Recent ILO and UNICEF global child labor estimates for 2020 show that for the first time in the past two decades, progress to end child labor has stalled and 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 the 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 recovery. International law recognizes released or separated children as victims of serious human rights violations that require long-term support. Yet too many of them do not receive adequate assistance and risk being re-recruited, trapped in other forms of child labor, exposed to human trafficking or detained for their association with an armed group.
Getting 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 enable children associated with parties to conflict to get their lives back. Reintegration programs should also recognize the high levels of distress that children have experienced and provide holistic support combining physical recovery, psychological care, family reunification, education, social protection and support for social, political and economic integration into life. civil.
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 substantial part of the funding should also go 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 on 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 community while building on existing resources and capacities.
This important year offers the international community a unique opportunity to translate its commitments into action and to accelerate efforts to end and 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.
By Virginia Gamba – Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Rob Williams – CEO, War Child UK, Guy Ryder – Director-General of the ILO.