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Statement by the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict

UN Security Council Arria-formula meeting: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict

7 May 2021

I am pleased to deliver this statement on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, an informal, cross-regional network of 47 Member States and the European Union, as well as 12 observers from the UN and civil society.

Thank you to Estonia and the co-sponsors for convening today’s Arria-formula meeting. We welcome the study published by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), and thank SRSG Gamba in particular for amplifying the plight of children affected by armed conflict amidst the pandemic.

Mr. Chair, the Group of Friends acknowledges and expresses our deep appreciation to all child protection actors, in particular from the United Nations and civil society, who often work at great risk to themselves to protect children and support their resilience and recovery during periods of conflict and violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these risks. This makes it all the more incumbent upon us to support dedicated child protection capacities. There is no substitute for the specialized expertise of child protection actors, as our briefers today have demonstrated.

The Group of Friends reiterates our appeal to ensure the adequate resourcing of child protection capacities, including within UN peace operations and country teams, and at the Secretariat. The current session of the Fifth Committee is an opportunity for Member States to consider how to support these crucial capacities.

Mr. Chair,

More than one year into the pandemic, the Group of Friends remains deeply concerned with the multi-faceted impacts of COVID-19 on children affected by armed conflict, including those forced to flee or living in detention.

The protection of children must be central in the ongoing response to the pandemic, including through the continuity of child-centered services that include mental health and psychosocial support, comprehensive reintegration programs that are gender- and age-sensitive, and rapid, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access to all children in need.

The denial of humanitarian assistance to children affected by armed conflict – a grave violation – is particularly egregious in the context of a global pandemic. We are deeply concerned about ongoing reports of denial of humanitarian assistance affecting children, particularly in contexts like Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, as well as the rising number of verified incidents of this grave violation globally.

The Group of Friends is also alarmed by attacks against schools and hospitals that have taken place during the pandemic, including in Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Myanmar, among other situations.

The pandemic is causing the largest disruption to education in history, as well as stretching health systems to their breaking points. This is disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable children and youth affected by armed conflict. Girls are particularly vulnerable, and face a heightened risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Attacks against schools and protected personnel will only exacerbate these impacts on children. And attacks against hospitals, such as the recent bombing of the Al Atareb surgical ward in Syria, destroy or disrupt essential health services at a time when already-vulnerable children need them most.

Mr. Chair, it is imperative that parties to armed conflict fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law, and refugee law, and prevent and end grave violations against children once and for all.

The Group of Friends encourages parties to conflict to implement concrete, time-bound, and effective protection measures for children in armed conflict, such as action plans, road maps, and command orders, among other measures

Finally, we urge the Security Council and parties to armed conflict to fully implement all Council resolutions on the protection of children in armed conflict, as well as resolutions 2532 and 2565 on ceasefires and facilitating equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations, and complex humanitarian emergencies.

This would bring much-needed respite to conflict-affected children and their families at this particularly critical moment in our collective effort to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you.

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