April 19, 2017

Global inquiry to investigate how to protect children in conflicts

Six-year-old Ahmad sits in a damaged school in Idlib, Syria. He says: “I wanted to become a doctor but perhaps I won’t become anything because our school was attacked."

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

The past year has seen a dramatic rise in violent acts against children - from sexual enslavement to the deliberate bombing of schools, education envoy Gordon Brown told the UN.

An international inquiry will be launched to try to stop the widespread violation of children’s rights in conflict zones across the world.

Its mission is to examine ways to protect children in conflicts and ensure that those who abuse them are held to account.

The past year has seen a dramatic rise in violent acts against children - from sexual enslavement to the deliberate bombing of schools.

The Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict was unveiled today at the United Nations in New York by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former British Prime Minister. 

Supported by Theirworld and Save the Children UK, the inquiry will feature legal experts, globally influential policy-makers, thinkers and activists.

Amal looks at her destroyed home in Sana’a, Yemen, after it was hit by an airstrike

UNICEF / Jahaf

“We must not allow ourselves to become inured to the senseless acts of violence befalling children in conflict zones - Syria being a prime example," said Brown, who will chair the inquiry. 

"Moral lines - such as the recent Idlib gas attack - have been crossed in Syria. 

"Other less visible atrocities include the deliberate bombing of children in their schools, as happened in the same Syrian province on October 26 last year, the abuse and trafficking of children, the militarisation of schools and the use of child militias."

The envoy said that not since 1945 had so many children been subjected to such widespread violations of their human rights in conflict zones.

Brown added: "In Yemen, where schools have become instruments of war and children used as human shields; in Iraq, where girls are being systematically raped; and across the Middle East, Africa and Asia where thousands of girls are being abducted and sold as slaves. 

"The latest outrage is Boko Haram's use of children as suicide bombers."

It is time to revisit and ask what more can be done - practically and effectively - when moral lines are crossed.

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and chair of the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict

Crimes against children which should send shockwaves around the world are becoming accepted as commonplace. 

In countries including Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan, international laws and human rights provisions developed in the 20th century are being violated at an alarming rate.

Girls formerly associated with armed forces and those at risk of being recruited, learn about tailoring at a training centre in Baidoa, Bay region of Somalia

UNICEF / Rich

This means a review of the existing laws and mechanisms that are supposed to protect children is urgently needed. 

The Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict will carry out this review.  

Building on the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the inquiry will consider the adequacy and effectiveness of existing laws and enforcement mechanisms.

It will also consider whether new laws or procedures could enhance the protection of children. The final report will be published and submitted to UN Secretary-General António Guterres in December.

Mohammad, a former child soldier in Afghanistan, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the province of Parwan

UNICEF / Brooks

Brown added: “Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, once said that the only international language we understand is the cry of the child.  

"But JK Rowling is probably nearer the truth when she said that children may be seen but are usually not heard. For it is questionable whether existing international legal norms and institutions provide adequate accountability for the widespread violations of children’s rights.   

“In 1996, Graça Machel’s path-breaking report on the ‘Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’ led to the creation of a UN Special Representative and an annual report to the Security Council that names and shames states and non-state actors responsible for grave violations against children in war zones. 

"But, 20 years on, it is time to revisit and ask what more can be done - practically and effectively - when moral lines are crossed.

“The new Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict will consider what may be done to strengthen the current framework for the protection of children and to hold the perpetrators of atrocities to account.  

"Only when international law is robust enough - substantively and procedurally - to secure accountability for children’s rights, will we have done all in our power to ensure that no child of God will ever again suffer the horrors of Syria.” 

The inquiry will comprise two groups:

A legal panel, led by Shaheed Fatima QC, of Blackstone Chambers, London, bringing together lawyers with a broad range of expertise.

It will consider the adequacy and effectiveness of existing laws and enforcement mechanisms and possible reforms aimed at enhancing the protection of children.

An advisory panel of globally influential policy-makers, thinkers and activists which will receive the report of the legal panel and consider its recommendations.  

In doing so, they will take into account the role of foreign policy and soft power in the protection of children and ways of building a large and diverse coalition of states and national leaders in support of this agenda.  

At the UN today, Gordon Brown also made an impassioned plea for a new International Finance Facility for Education to ensure every child is in school and learning by the year 2030.

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