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I have the honour of speaking on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and my own country, Denmark.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Malaysian presidency for holding this open debate at such a critical time for children around the world. We thank the Secretary-General for his opening remarks, and we acknowledge the Special Representative for her tireless efforts and critical work on behalf of children as well as UNICEF.
Children should not be exposed to war, not as victims or witnesses, nor as soldiers. Therefore, our efforts continue in order to prevent children from ending up in the crossfire, as well as in armed groups or forces. In the 2015 annual report of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict, there is a glimmer of hope. Last year, strong engagement with non-state armed groups led to the release of over 8,000 children. With Sudan coming on board, we welcome that all the governments identified for recruitment and use of children in their security forces are now engaged in the Action Plan process. We look forward to working closely with the Sudanese government to help in the implementation of the Action Plan, including through the local Group of Friends led by Sweden and Canada. In Colombia, we are heartened by both the Colombian government and the FARC-EP’s readiness to include protection of children in peace talks. Also, the progress in government commitment to the protection of children during conflict in Afghanistan, the DRC and Myanmar, as stated in the report, is an indication that things might change.
However, much of the report is heartbreaking to read. There are still far too many parties to conflicts listed for grave violations against children. Thousands of children have been killed during over five years of war in Syria. The highest number of child deaths and injuries were recorded in Afghanistan last year. Somalian children face an unbearable situation. In Yemen, the escalating conflict has had a devastating impact on children and grave violations against children have increased dramatically.
Let me be very clear. All parties must respect their international legal obligations to protect civilians. Child protection concerns must be included in all negotiations to end conflicts.
Given that armed non-state actors – such as Daesh, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram – account for the vast majority of violations, further reflection on new forms of engagement is needed.
I would like to emphasise three points that are particularly important for the Nordic countries.
Firstly, protecting the integrity and credibility of the MRM, as well as the office of the Special Representative for CAAC and the CAAC agenda itself, are imperative. It is essential that the verification of grave violations against CAAC is determined impartially and objectively. The issue of listing and de-listing of parties must be based on factual findings on the ground.
Secondly, children's access – in particular girls’ access – to quality education in war and disasters must be ensured. Education is a vital part of protecting children during conflict. Attending school can create a sense of normality and a vision for a better future in an otherwise chaotic situation. There were attacks on education in at least 70 countries between 2009 and 2013. Since then such attack have escalated further. We must increase our efforts to uphold the right to education, even in conflict situations. By making schools safer for children today, we are protecting the future.
Finally, training in child protection for civilian and military personnel is key, particularly to avoid any incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse against children. We believe that pre-deployment training within these areas should be mandatory for UN personnel. The Swedish Armed Forces International Centre offers a child protection course based on the UN Child Protection curricula. Also we need to protect Child Protection Advisors in UN missions in order to properly document and verify child rights violations.
We need to let children be children. The challenges we face are a call to action. In this regard, we reiterate our full support for the Special Representative and her office as well as the crucial work by UNICEF, other UN agencies and NGOs in the field. We wholeheartedly support the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers” that has led to tangible progress since it was launched. Moreover, it is time we pay more attention to child protection as part of peace negotiations. Regrettably, as today’s debate shows, we have a lot of work ahead of us.