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Promotion and protection of the rights of children

18-11-2007 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 62nd session, Third Committee, Item 66 (a) of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 17-19 Octobre 2007

The ICRC is seriously concerned by the situation of all children affected by armed conflict. Today we wish to address the situation of children recruited or used by armed actors, especially girls.

In war, anyone may become vulnerable. But because of their sex and age, girls are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and that abuse may take many forms. Combatants may force them to cook, fetch water and firewood or clean for them – and the list goes on. Of particular concern, girls may be subjected to sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, abduction, forced marriage or early pregnancy.

Because the best protection children can get is by staying with their families, the impact of war on children is closely linked to its impact on adults – both men and women. Protecting the whole civilian population in time of war, especially keeping families together, therefore helps to protect all children – both boys and girls. The ICRC applies this principle throughout its operations and highly recommends according a high priority to keeping families together, no matter the circumstances.

Mr Chairman,

One of the many illegal acts to which children fall victim in conflict situations is recruitment by armed forces and armed groups. Preventing the recruitment of children and their participation in hostilities is by far the best way of protecting them. The ICRC places a great deal of emphasis on this aspect in its field activities and other work, notably in the sphere of laws and regulations. ICRC activities include making representations to arms bearers and all parties to armed conflicts, promoting knowledge of international humanitarian law and other fundamental rules, contributing to the development of new humanitarian rules and providing direct services for children.

The ICRC welcomes the increased focus on the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, both within the United Nations and among certain States and armed groups. The ICRC participated in the drafting of the recently adopted Paris Commitments and Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. These represent important tools, as they consolidate best practice and reinforce existing law. The principles place great emphasis on girls recruited or used by warring parties. While boys often account for the majority of child soldiers, girls play an important role for armed forces and groups: not only do they participate directly in hostilities but they are also frequently abused. The principles underline the fact that government forces, armed groups and civil society share responsibility for ensuring that children are not recruited in the first place and for ensuring their smooth release and reintegration if they are recruited. The ICRC very much hopes that many more States will adhere to the Paris Commitments.

The ICRC reiterates the importance of the international community’s upholding existing law, especially international humanitarian law and human rights law. This is particularly important as regards rules prohibiting the recruitment of children and their participation in armed conflict. The ICRC urges all States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning the involvement of children in armed conflict and to enforce its provisions. It also hopes that international law will eventually include a total ban on all forms of recruitment – voluntary or involuntary – of any person under 18.

Even though girls often represent approximately 40% of the children recruited, a much smaller percentage tak e part in demobilization processes. In several contexts where an official disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process has taken place, the ICRC has noted that only a small percentage of girls passed through it.

With respect to such processes, one may ask “Where are the girls?” Our assumption is that they often remain behind because they have become wives or are fulfilling other domestic roles, and hence are not seen as being child soldiers in the same way that boys are. Moreover, many girls who manage to leave armed forces or groups do not want to pass through an official disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, fearing the stigmatization that might result.

We believe that the risk of girls being invisible should be a key consideration in any release negotiation with parties to a conflict. Their plight should receive high priority, their specific needs should be met and their views should be listened to.

Mr Chairman,

That children should suffer the effects of armed conflict and other situations of violence is a stain on humanity. We must do all in our power to end their suffering.

The ICRC is pleased to see that children are currently being demobilized, even in conflicts that have not yet been settled. This shows clearly that the repeated efforts by the international community to address this practice are yielding results.

Let me conclude by repeating that all the authorities responsible must attach a high degree of priority to the specific protection and assistance needs of children – both boys and girls. The principles enshrined in international humanitarian law and human rights law must be applied. Let us hope that future demobilization processes will show that lessons have been learned from the past.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.