The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Malta puts prevention of use of children in armed conflict on agenda in UN Security Council briefing

Albert Galea Monday, 13 February 2023, 20:21 Last update: about 2 years ago

Albert Galea is reporting from New York

The prevention of the use of children in armed conflict was on the agenda during Malta’s Presidency of the United Nations Security Council, in a meeting which took place on Monday morning in New York City.

Malta took up the presidency of the United Nations’ Security Council at the start of February, and will hold it till the end of the month before holding it again in 2024. Malta has also taken up the chair of the UN’s Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict.

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Speaking in her capacity as Malta’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Vanessa Frazier told representatives of the countries on the council that “Malta underlines that cycles of violence can only be broken by identifying and addressing risks children are facing before conflict erupts. These include systemic factors that increase susceptibility, such as poverty, displacement, and the absence of social protection.”

She said that a “sustained and effective” coordinated response across the UN system is critical for preventing child trafficking and cross-border abductions, and also said that Malta would welcome more systematic reporting on early warning indicators of grave violations against children in armed conflict.

“Survivor-centred approaches must also inform prevention and early warning, as conflict-related sexual violence is often preceded by discrimination, persecution, hate speech and incitement to violence based on gender and group identity,” she said.

Frazier noted that although conflict-related sexual violence disproportionately affects girls, sexual violence targeting boys is used to torture, subjugate, and emasculate, particularly in situations of detention. It is pertinent to note that boys account for more than 95% of conflict-related detainees, she said.

She said that Malta further underscores the importance of equal access to literacy and quality education, which can contribute to conflict prevention and provide children with alternative pathways.

Frazier also chaired the briefing on the basis that Malta currently holds the Presidency of the UN’s Security Council.

In her address opening the meeting, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said that 25 situations are being monitored by the United Nations’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda.

“Preventing conflict and sustaining peace has never been more pertinent or urgent and I commend Malta for providing a platform where its implementation can be discussed,” she said.

She said that the trend of violations when it comes to the rights of children in armed conflict remains “shockingly high”, with 24,000 grave violations against children including killing, maiming, recruitment to armed groups, and denial of humanitarian assistance and abduction amongst others identified in 2021, and a similar trend continues in 2022.

“In face of continuous cycles of violence and conflict which are only becoming more frequent, intense and complex we must identify and understand pre-existing risks to children for when a conflict may occur,” she said.

Gamba said that the children most likely to suffer in conflict are those with lesser education, living in poverty or those with disabilities, and many of these are more exposed to recruitment by armed groups and suffering violence.

She said that the Security Council gives an opportunity to focus on the resolution and its need to provide support and capacity for its urgent implementation. 

“There is opportunity to develop common approaches to prevention on sub-regional and regional levels and sufficient support must be given to governments to this end,” she said, adding that support can be given by sharing best practice, and through coordinated mapping of vulnerabilities on the ground in close collaboration with UN entities on the ground.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Najat Maala M’jid meanwhile also said that Malta’s commitment to bringing up this topic “could not be more timely.”

“Millions of children are living in conflict zones, and conflict remains the biggest threat to the safety and wellbeing of children,” she said, adding that these conflicts normally go hand-in-hand with others such as environmental and financial ones.  

She said that these children often face a compendium of violence such as abduction, forced labour, sexual violence, and enrolment in armed and criminal groups amongst others.  They also lose access to critical health and educational infrastructure, a neglect which can last a lifetime, she added.

“Only through investment in integrated national children protection systems can we ensure active prevention measures,” she said.

She said that it is critical to understand and identify who the children affected by conflict are and where they live.  She mentioned rapid child emergency alert systems, easy access to humanitarian aid, and strengthening border measures to prevent displacements and trafficking as things which can be done.

“All action to address child protection must be shaped by children’s experiences as they know where the system has failed the most,” she said.

Divina Maloum – a young award-winning peace building activist from Cameroon – also addressed the briefing.

She spoke of how at the age of 14 she created an organisation of 100 children as change makers which now mobilises at least 5,000 children in peace-building actions every year.

She said that she comes from a country which has been in the grip of multiple conflicts and which has seen children used as human shields and girls targeted as sex slaves, which is why she decided to create Children for Peace in 2015.

She said that children are taking positive actions towards finding solutions for peace-building and that her work has been acknowledged because it brings results: the project Silence the Guns helped 5.5 million people and supported the re-integration of 500,000 children formerly enrolled in armed groups. 

She said that the involvement of children and youths in order to better understand their context, and then design more relevant and inclusive programmes.

“Stakeholders should create an enabling environment for young people to participate so that everyone can make the most of the opportunities available,” she said.

“When it comes to working with government and major organisations, my feeling is that most seem to not take young girls and children seriously,” she said, noting that youth participation means removing the technical and financial barriers which currently prevent it.

Focus put on strengthening already existing measures as Russia and USA spar over Ukraine

Following the interventions, the countries sitting on the United Nations’ Security Council addressed the meeting.

France spoke of the importance of implementing framework which already exists, and commended the UN for activated its taskforce on the monitoring of grave violations against children in the Ukraine War.

“We need to ensure that UN mandates contain robust provisions with robust provisions with proper supporting capacity for them to be implemented,” the French representative told the council.

China meanwhile said that each child must, at a minimum grow up in an environment of peace, and that the best protection for children is the prevention of armed conflict.

“Prevention is the best protection and most definitive approach to this is to eliminate armed conflict,” the Chinese representative said, noting that one out of six children lived in conflict zones in 2021.

He said that children need peace which is durable, and added that instead of “resorting to sanctions” and other measures which fan the flames of conflict and stoke it, countries must “respect country’s sovereignty and not interfere in internal affairs and carry out certain activities against governments in the name of democracy.”

He said that prevention must be guided by rule of law at all times and urged the last country which hasn’t ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child to act without delay so this has truly global coverage. The country in question is the United States of America.

The Chinese representative said that the harsh reality is that sanctions are decreasing the economic capacity of countries and therefore not allowing children to develop as they should. 

He noted that in Syria, the “unlawful unilateral” sanctions has led to a lack of equipment which can be used in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which hit the region two weeks ago, “leaving people with no choice but to dig with their hands.”

“How many children have been killed because people couldn’t get to them in time?  Lift international sanctions not to become accomplices to international crises and desist from this hypocritical and political grandstanding,” he said.

The United Kingdom’s representative meanwhile said, similarly to France, that it must be ensured that the existing mechanisms work effectively.  He also expressed concern by the dramatic rise in conflict-related sexual violence – a 20% increase – and said that it is exploring all levers, including sanctions, to deter the perpetrators of this violence.

The Albanian representative meanwhile spoke of breaches of children’s rights in the Ukraine War, saying that 438 had been killed in the war, thousands were injured, and also mentioning reports that children had been displaced and deported from Ukraine and put up for adoption in Russia.

Russia’s representative however said that Ukraine was responsible for consistently breaching regulations relating to the protection of children in armed conflict with the complicity of western countries such as the UK, France, and the United States because they have provided Ukraine with weapons.

The representative accused Ukraine of bombing schools and hospitals in the Donbas and Luhansk, and of also turning schools and hospitals in their own territories into military encampments.

“Russia condemns in the strongest possible terms crimes against children; the perpetrators for these crimes must be brought to justice and held accountable,” the representative said.

He also said that the UN’s working group on children in armed conflicts has “become politicised” and said that Malta will have a great challenge chairing this group to increase its effectiveness and reducing politicisation.

The United States of America however lambasted Russia’s intervention, saying that the Russian delegation had attempted to “spin their war in Ukraine as some sort of positive for Ukrainian children.”

He said that Russia’s war is having a “devastating impact” on the children in Ukraine.

He too advocated for the strengthening of the UN’s existing frameworks and on giving more resources to child protection officers.

Brazil’s representative meanwhile said that protecting children should be a “unifying force” bringing members states to an ethical common ground.

He said that there is no dignity for children without social and economic development in their homeland, something which he said is a key to attaining “sustainable peace.”

Representatives from Ecuador, Switzerland, Gambia, Mozambique, Ghana, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan also addressed the meeting.

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