International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers: ZIF interviews UN SRSG Gamba and hosts international workshop on Children and Armed Conflict

Photo: ZIF


Together with the Federal Foreign Office, ZIF hosts an international 2-day workshop on Children and Armed Conflicts & Women, Peace and Security. We are proud that a multitude of participants join the discussion, amongst them representatives of the UN, the crisis group and several NGOs.

UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflicts, Ms. Virginia Gamba, undertook the journey to Berlin and is participating in the workshop discussions on today's International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

Prior to the workshop, we were able to interview SRSG Gamba on the topic.

ZIF: What are the most important achievements of the CAAC agenda?

SRSG Gamba: "The Children and Armed Conflict mandate was created in 1996, following the realization that children were the main victims of armed conflict. Through the CAAC mandate, the UN is mandated to:

  • gather information, and report on how and where children are affected by armed conflict,
  • name parties to conflict who recruit and use children, kill and maim, commit sexual violence, abduct children, and attack schools and hospitals;
  • use this information to take action to protect children – to engage in dialogue with listed Government forces and armed groups to develop Action Plans aimed at ending and preventing violations against children.

There is now a global consensus that children should not be recruited and used as child soldiers by national security forces in conflict and protected from violations. Over 125,000 child soldiers were released. Twenty-nine Action Plans were signed and there is strong international engagement and action to improve the protection of children."

ZIF: What are challenges of implementing the agenda?

SRSG: "Children are still confronted to unspeakable violence in times of conflict. Our biggest challenge is to change that. There are pressing concerns for children in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, DRC, Afghanistan and other countries. We often forget that children are the majority of the population in most countries affected by war. There is a very strong international mobilization to protect children, but lots of work is still needed to reach our objective of shielding them from the impact of war. Some of the issues we currently face are violent extremism, mass displacement of children, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, attacks on schools and hospitals and many more."

ZIF: What are the priorities of your work?

SRSG: "Here are a few of our priorities:

  1. increasing our engagement with non-State armed groups, ensuring our work results in not only ending violations, but also preventing them, and working towards a system that provides true reintegration for children. The engagement with non-State actors is one of the greatest challenges we still face, but also an area where we see new opportunities to be seized. We are also seeing positive results from the historic agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP in Colombia and are hoping that the protection of children can truly serve as an entry point when parties to conflict negotiate the peace. In the coming years, we will work to generate more engagement with a greater number of parties to conflict, with a view to ending and preventing grave violations against children.
  2. Increasing public awareness and action are at the core of our strategy to prevent violations against children. The campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, became a catalyst for the signing and implementation of Action Plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict.
  3. Another important aspect of our strategy is to increase our cooperation with regional and sub-regional organizations. These organizations play an increasingly important role in the maintenance of international peace and security. By developing a common approach to the protection of children, we will increase regional ownership and the sharing of best practices, which will also assist our prevention efforts. One recent example is our involvement with NATO’s child protection policy guidelines and training, which is setting a standard in all their operations.
  4. And finally, on reintegration. Releasing children is essential, but it is only a first step. Each child released needs physical and mental health support to overcome the long-term effects of war. They also need access to education or vocational training to learn the skills they need to adapt to civilian life. Reintegration also involves working with communities to overcome stigma and to help boys and girls reunite with their families. We should make reintegration a priority by establishing a long-term multi-year funding mechanism for the reintegration of children, including by placing a specific focus on girls, on psychosocial and education programmes as well as vocational training. While the cost of separation and reintegration may seem large, it is insignificant compared to the hope of a better future. All children used and abused by Armed Conflict should be given a real chance to create their own future."

Today, SRSG Gamba is releasing an official statement considering the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers which you can find on her official website.