More children could be pushed into the joining armed forces and armed groups due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, senior United Nations and European Union (EU) officials said on International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, observed on Thursday.
In a joint statement EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba also warned that very few among those released by armed forces and groups are able to access reintegration programmes or support.
“Armed forces and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, tearing them away from their families and communities, cruelly stripping away their dignity and destroying their lives and their future”, they said.
“Education opportunities, already disrupted by war and displacement, are further vanishing. Children are tragically paying the highest price and we have the joint responsibility to build a sustainable system that protects all children at all times”, the officials added.
We all have bad dreams, but what these children are going through is nightly terror.
We're joining @UNICEF in calling attention to the importance of psychological support for children who’ve associated with armed groups. #ChildrenNotSoldiers #RedHandDaypic.twitter.com/yPcVufGJaQ
— UN Humanitarian (@UNOCHA) February 12, 2021
Still used as ‘expendable fuel of war’
The senior officials also voiced concerns that despite global commitments and efforts, “children around the world continue to suffer from the consequences of conflicts and are still being used as expendable fuel of war.”
Ms. Gamba and Mr. Borrell added that “only a fraction” of those released from armed forced and groups are benefiting from reintegration programmes.
Insecurity prevents thousands of children from accessing quality education and health care while schools and hospitals continue to be targeted, and despite being victims, children remain unlawfully in detention for their alleged or actual association with armed forces and groups, they said.
Preventing recruitment and use of children
The UN and EU officials also reiterated their commitment to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict, secure their release, and ensure their reintegration.
“We stand ready to respond to the urgent education needs of children, as education is crucial in preventing the recruitment and use of children”, they said.
“No one has the right to steal children’s dreams or their innocence … children have a key role to play in building a present and a future where peace will prevail. It is our responsibility to enable them to be such agents of change”, Ms. Gamba and Mr. Borrell added.
The International Day
The International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day, is an annual commemoration of the many children around the world caught in conflict and a global call-to-action for the world’s political leaders to mobilize and end the practice of child conscription.
According to the UN Special Representative’s office, tens of thousands of boys and girls are recruited and used as child soldiers by armed forces and armed groups in conflict in over 20 countries around the world.
There are many ways for children to become associated with armed forces and groups and their tasks can vary. However, no matter their role, child soldiers are exposed to acute levels of violence – as witnesses, direct victims, and as forced participants.