Statement by the President of the Republic of Estonia Ms Kersti Kaljulaid at UN Security Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies,

First of all, I would like to thank all our briefers for their clear, urgent and deeply moving messages.

A girl – her name is Graciela – was born in a small mining town in the Central African Republic. Her mother died when she was just a baby. And she also lost her father, when a rebel group attacked her hometown in 2014. She fled, but encountered another armed group on the road and had no choice but to join them. She had to cook for the group, but also train to fight. She hated that. Fortunately by now, she has been able to start a new life. After being denied access to education for a long time, she was able to go back to school. This has been a success story. But what would have this story been like during a pandemic? How has the pandemic impacted numerous children in situations like these since spring 2020? These are complex, uncomfortable, important questions we need to ask ourselves.

As we are discussing the findings of the annual report of the Secretary-General today, I want to encourage us not to display difficult situations better than they actually are. It is humane from us to want to see and search for success and development. But we must be bold enough to admit if we could all learn and do better, taking next steps forward.

In 2020, the situation of children in armed conflict was marked by a sustained high number of grave violations. As the pandemic has roamed on in 2021, we have had to admit that as we’ve implemented lockdown policies, we have also created challenges that task forces on the ground have needed to overcome to document and verify those violations, and to engage with parties to prevent and end those violations.

Schools and child friendly spaces being closed, families having lost their income, children are an easy target – for example, to be recruited by armed groups, or to be married off, abducted, raped.

The report of 2020 contains an overview of more than 26 000 verified grave violations against children. We can only guess how many violations have gone unnoticed and unreported due to the pandemic.

Despite the work the UN and its partners have done, the situation is worsening in many countries. Multitude of children grow up without knowing anything but war – among them, a whole generation in Syria.

The war in Yemen has had serious consequences for children. “The biggest war is to destroy children and the mothers who grieve from them,” said the mother of an 8-year-old Omar. He was wounded on his way home from school and his 13-year-old brother was killed.

Children have been killed by regime forces in Myanmar. And in the first 3 months this year in Afghanistan, more than 150 children were recorded killed and 400 injured – and in just these few weeks, numerous schools have been damaged, preventing thousands of students from returning to classrooms.

As every crisis, hopefully this one has also helped highlight where solutions might be. We need to think how we can use technology better. Even the basic level of mobile connection can help us to register and know where our children are. Only then can we help them.

Education is the key of prevention. Schools must be protected from attack. This means education for girls, but also for boys. Until abduction of girls from schools is also done as an attack against the idea of girls’ education, we need to educate boys, future men – brothers and husbands – to think differently from their parents.

A crucial part of prevention is ensuring accountability at the earliest stages possible. We must make sure that no one is above the law. No perpetrator should escape justice. We need strong national accountability measures for grave violations against children and for cooperation with relevant international accountability mechanisms, including the ICC.

All parties must comply with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Children and Armed Conflict agenda, including the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. A strong Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on grave violations against children is a part of it. We need to recognize here in the Security Council, that the protection of children is relevant for every situation on the Security Council’s agenda. It is crucial to ensure, preserve and strengthen the UN child protection capacity, including in mission transitions and drawdowns.

In conclusion, I invite us to close this open debate today with at least one actionable item every single individual here will take, and at least one every entity, every country here will take and follow through in the next few weeks to really move us all forward in finding meaningful solutions. Action brings hope of more action.

Estonia – to start with ourselves – will continue funding the office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF. We will also maintain, as we have until now, a strong focus on the protection of children as a member of the Security Council.