Accra: 22nd October, 2021: They are powerless in conflicts. They have been drafted to fight, they have been killed, used as human shields, forced into marriages and yet they are voiceless. They are the future but remain vulnerable in spite of loads of international frameworks to protect them— They are children.
Their plight and vulnerability will be the key issue on the table at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) when policymakers and experts from civil society, academia among others gather to discuss issues bothering the welfare of children in conflict zones from October 26 – 28, 2021.
Frameworks for child protection
Although several frameworks, including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and its protocols among others were adopted to promote and protect the rights of children in armed conflicts, they are far from protecting children.
The existence of these frameworks seems to have a limited effect on guaranteeing the safety and well-being of children, especially considering that the number of children living in conflict zones continues to increase.
Figures from Save the Children asserts that Africa has approximately 170 million children living in conflict zones on the continent—the highest in the world. A 2018 report published by the same organisation estimated that 1.2 billion children are exposed to extreme risk of conflict, poverty and discrimination against girls.
Increasingly, from Nigeria through Syria to Iraq among others, parties to conflict continue to disregard the international rules and codes of conduct that exist to protect children in conflicts situations.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Protection of the Child, in the July 2020 Report to the Security Council, urged the Member States to strengthen accountability measures to end impunity and integrate gender perspective in the protection of children in situations of conflicts.
But there is still a sad reality. Gender issues matter in the ways boys and girls experience conflict. As a result of armed conflict, uprooted population groups, particularly women, boys and girls, live for years in camps, dependent on humanitarian aid and with limited access to vital resources.
According to experts, gender inequality has been noted as a root cause of many barriers to sustainable development and critically impacts children’s ability to survive, learn, and live a life free from violence.
That is not all. Discrimination against women and children and the lack of recognition of their particular needs exposed them to varied violence and abuse and thereby make them more vulnerable.
Experts say a nuanced understanding of the experience of conflict and other situations of violence for younger children, adolescents, and those with varying types and degrees of disability will benefit from this framework to enable practitioners to recognise these differences and respond appropriately.
Why the symposium
It is against this background that the Women, Peace and Security Institute (WPSI) of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in partnership with the Save the Children International (SIC) is organizing a three-day regional symposium to create a platform to discuss issues concerning children.
It will be on the theme ‘Accelerating the implementation of Children And Armed Conflict Agenda: A Call to Action.’
The participants will be drawn from regional child protection experts, policymakers, experts from academia and Civil Societies Organizations among others to deliberate on the outcomes of recent research conducted in Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria on the involvement of children in armed conflicts and the engagement of youth in peacebuilding.
It will among other aims present an opportunity for the stakeholders to discuss the different research findings and recommendations that emerged from the four country’s case study and provide a platform for policy-makers to identify ways in which key recommendations from the research can be translated into policies and response mechanisms to address the plights of children in armed conflicts.
When the sun sets on the event the organisers expect to harvest policy recommendations and actions plan to accelerate the implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) agenda proposed, and a report on key recommendations based on the outcomes of the symposium for advancing the Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) agenda produced and disseminated. They will also nurse a collaboration among relevant actors across the Sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate the implementation of the CAAC agenda strengthen.
The regional symposium will bring together thirty (30) participants from national human rights institutions; continental institutions including the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), the African Union Peace and Security Department (AUPSD), the African Union Women, Gender & Development Directorate (AUWGDD), the office of the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace & Security; Training Centres of Excellence (TCEs); and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) among others. Key stakeholders engaged during the field visit in Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo will also participate in the symposium.
Connected to saving children from drowning in the ocean of conflict is building the capacity of the youth as peace ambassadors, but largely ignored.
Although the AU’S African Youth Charter, as well as Resolutions 2250, 2419 and 2535 of the UN Security Council, underpin the need to build the capacity of the youth as peacebuilders as well protect them during conflicts, it remains a paper talk.
It has been observed that African youth continue to be excluded in peacebuilding processes. This contributes to impeding the achievement of sustainable peace and security on the African continent.