|Remarks by Ambassador Zhang Jun at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict|
I thank you for presiding over the meeting today. And I thank Special Representative Gamba and Executive Director Russell for their briefings. I also listened with great attention to Mr. Kumi’s speech. Based on his own experience, Mr. Kumi gave us a thought-provoking account of the endless pain and wounds that armed conflict has inflicted on children.
Children deserve a carefree childhood, and should not be forced into the war of adults or grow up in fear of violence. Yet the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict of 2021 once again shows us the following heartbreaking realities. In the past year, 19,000 children in 21 conflict-stricken countries and regions were subjected to nearly 24,000 serious violations, an average of 65 per day. These violations, the killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children, and the denial of humanitarian access to them stand out as most striking.
The fact that these young lives were subjected to repeated merciless pains questions without exception the international community’s moral conscience and its ability to protect the next generation. These children have lost their homes and childhood in war. We cannot let them lose their future and hope on top of that. The best way to protect children is to put an end to conflict. The Security Council should strive for cessation of hostilities, and work for political solutions, so that children caught in the depths of conflict can see the dawn of peace at an early date. In addition, the Council should draw the line when it comes to violence against children and absolutely not allow violent conflict to trample upon children’s fundamental rights. With this in mind, I would like to share a few points.
First, we must put an end to egregious violations against children. The sixth grave violations against children set out in Security Council resolutions are off limits for conduct in conflict. Parties to conflict should stop grave violations against children, step up cooperation with the United Nations, formulate action plans for child protection, and during mediation, peace talks, disarmament, demobilization, and post-conflict peacebuilding, give priority to children’s rights and interests. The international community should leave no gaps in child protection. The country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child should take immediate action. Truth and justice cannot be always absent. Perpetrators of grave violations against children should be held accountable. Recently, the media released that from 2010 to 2011, foreign special forces in Afghanistan had killed civilians indiscriminately, and had gone so far as to carry out killing contests, and some of the victims have been children. Such atrocities are most shocking. The perpetrators should and must be severely punished.
Second, we should give all children protection without discrimination. Be it boys, girls, children with disabilities, children of refugees and immigrants, or children held by terrorists and armed groups, they should all enjoy the basic rights stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and shall not be treated unfairly for any reason. It is disconcerting that in the refugee detention centers on the border of certain country, tens of thousands of refugee children are forced to endure rampant disease, unclean food, and forced separation from their parents. Some of the refugee children have been deported and forced to survive in the midst of violence, poverty, and displacement. Children associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria are all victims. We echo the Secretary-General’s appeal that these children be granted the right to voluntary repatriation.
Third, we should provide children with opportunities for comprehensive development. Poverty, hunger, and school dropouts render children more vulnerable to violence. Nutrition, education, and skills give them the opportunity to emerge from the shadow of war. The international community should encourage countries in conflict to increase policy support and resource allocation, and expand dedicated assistance in the fields of development and education. Amid a global food, energy and financial crises, children in conflict need help more than ever. Cuts in development aid are tantamount to weakening the protection of children. In Afghanistan, poverty is spreading, hunger is raging, and children are falling into victims. In this difficult times, an individual country’s freezing and misappropriation of Afghanistan's overseas assets is depriving Afghanistan children of the hope of survival. The reckless imposition of unilateral coercive measures is making children and other most vulnerable groups paying the heaviest price. Such practices should be reversed.
Fourth, we should make good use of the child protection toolkits. The Secretary-General’s annual report and its listing and de-listing mechanism are indicative of the state of child protection in conflict stricken areas and countries. Clear, consistent, and measurable listing criteria should be established. The Security Council working group should adopt the same frequency of deliberations of every country situation on its agenda and the same cycle of issuing country-specific conclusions, and avoid selective attention based on political positions. The question of Palestine has remained elusive for more than seven decades. Countless children have died in their most beautiful childhood. Generations of children have failed to see the way out for peace. With gang violence intensifying in Haiti since April this year, more than 1,700 schools have been closed as a result, and more than half a million children have lost access to education. The killing, kidnapping, and recruitment of children by gangsters have cast a shadow over their childhood. If we choose to continue to disregard the legitimate rights of Palestinian and Haitian children, how many more tragedies will we have to witness before belated justice can be returned to them.
Though much remains to be done, the past year has nonetheless brought us good, promising news. Through the efforts of SRSG Gamba, 12,214 children embroiled in conflict have been released. Relevant UN agencies are actively taking actions to save children. With the help of China, 10-year-old Mohammed in Hasakah province, Syria, was fitted with a prosthetic limb on his right leg which had been severed by a bomb. Since then, he has been able to bid farewell to the wheelchair. Also with China’s help, Amira, a displaced mother in Bosaso, Somalia, now enjoys nutritious meals with her two preschool-aged daughters and stays free of severe famine and malnutrition. So long as there is action, there is hope. From the Middle East to North Africa, from Europe to Latin America, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahara, the eyes of young children are looking towards us here, and we cannot let them down.
Thank you, Mr. President.