On March 25 2015 the Security Council held an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict with a special focus on child victims of non-state armed groups such as ISIS (also known as ISIL, IS, or Daesh) and Boko Haram. The debate opened with a statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed that, “we cannot tolerate a world in which children are killed and maimed, where they are abducted, subject to sexual violence, forced to become soldiers.” Statements from Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt followed. The field perspective was provided by the Child Protection Advisor from Save the Children in the Central African Republic, Julie Bodin; and Junior Nzita Nsuami, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Goodwill Ambassador for the implementation of the action plan on child recruitment in the DRC. France, as President this month, emphasized the need for concrete proposals from Member States on how to prevent and respond to grave violations against children by non-state armed groups. The 80 speakers in attendance focused on methods for tackling abuses and grave violations, including mass abductions, rape, and sexual slavery.
Of the 80 statements that were made, 41 speakers (51%) made reference to the role and impact of girls specifically in their statements, and 14 speakers (17.5%) made direct references to women in armed conflict. 4 speakers directly mentioned gender-based violence and another 2 spoke of addressing gender disparity, specifically in education initiatives, as a prevention and protection strategy for combatting the effects of armed conflict and the violence perpetrated by armed groups. Only 3 speakers addressed the necessity to bolster more robust disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes. Although over half of the speakers (53%) specifically mentioned the use of sexual violence and exploitation as a war tactic, only 2 spoke directly on the “gender issue” and the particularly difficult circumstances facing girls in armed conflict. The strongest recognition of the gendered perspective of armed conflict facing young girls came from Child Protection Advisor Julie Bodin (Save the Children, Central African Republic). Bodin recognized the urgency for development and integration of gender-specific strategies, specifically for the release of child victims from armed groups, stating, “We must consider the gender issue.”
Furthermore, the majority of speakers made reference to Nigeria’s Chibok girls when discussing the impact of armed violence on girls. While the gender-based violence perpetrated by Boko Haram is notable and significant, it is only one of many mass acts of gender-based violence facing young girls in conflict situations globally: this ranges from sexual slavery of minority Yezidi girls in Iraq to 31-61% rates of child marriage in the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and Yemen.. Despite attention to the Chibok girls by other speakers, the Nigerian speaker was notably silent on this issue.
As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of SCR 1612 (2005), it is difficult to ignore that 2014 was one of the worst years for children in armed conflict. In his opening statement, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated that, “an estimated 230 million children live in countries and areas where armed groups are fighting, [with] up to 15 million children directly affected by the violence.” The majority of speakers mentioned the need to address forced recruitment and mass abductions by non-state armed groups, which represented 51 out of the 59 parties listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict. Specifically, 9 speakers expressed support for the inclusion of abduction by armed groups as a violation that would constitute as a trigger for the listing of parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s relevant annual reports. Despite consistent mentions of the need for greater focus towards protection and prevention as well as reintegration after the fact, there must be greater action on prevention, including more consistent integration and financing the gender perspectives into action on armed violence and development of gender-specific strategies that address the participation and rights of women and girls.