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Protecting children in armed conflicts

26.06.2017 - Article

Children are the most vulnerable people in any armed conflict, which is why it is essential that the international community ensure they have special protection in such situations.


Children at a school in Jordan. Syrian and Jordanian children are taught here in shifts.
Children at a school in Jordan. Syrian and Jordanian children are taught here in shifts.© Thomas Imo/photothek.de

Children are particularly hard hit by wars and armed conflicts. They are put at risk when they are recruited as child soldiers and are often the deliberate targets of abuse and killings. However, it is not only these direct threats that adversely affect children’s lives. Schools are often closed, occupied or used for other purposes. This robs children of their future.

Children are keen to learn, knowing that education will give them the chance of a better life. They therefore need schools to be a safe place where they can learn and play and are offered a future. When children are sick, weak or injured, they need a safe place to shelter where people take care of them, provide them with food and give them new hope.

List of conflict parties

In 2005, the Security Council introduced a mechanism to protect children in armed conflicts. Its aim is to draw up a United Nations (UN) black list of parties to conflict that recruit child soldiers, deliberately kill and maim children or subject them to sexual violence.

Not only are the conflict parties thus publicly discredited, but sanctions such as travel bans or asset freezing can also be imposed on them. Only if listed parties cooperate with the UN and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict can they be deleted from the list.

Resolution 1998: protecting schools and hospitals

School pupils in a primary school in Ethiopia
School pupils in a primary school in Ethiopia© Michael Gottschalk/photothek.de

During Germany’s membership of the UN Security Council from 2011 to 2012, it chaired the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Under its chairmanship, the Security Council focused on protecting schools and hospitals (Resolution 1998). As a result, the UN list now includes parties that attack schools and hospitals, making them accountable for the consequences of their actions.

The aim is to draw up action plans with the parties listed which, when successfully implemented, would result in their removal from the list. Such agreements reached between the parties to a conflict, the relevant government and the UN are usually based on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration measures.

Although its chairmanship of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict has ended, the German Government continues to work within the UN to improve the protection of children in armed conflicts and to ensure that the perpetrators of prohibited acts are punished. In pursuit of that aim, Germany works closely with the EU, UN and NATO. It also supports projects on preventing recruitment, demobilising child soldiers and helping them reintegrate into society, for example through educational programmes.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Virginia Gamba of Argentina has been Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict since March 2017. Every year, the Special Representative reports to the relevant UN committees and the governments affected on the fate of children in armed conflicts, thus highlighting the need for continued political and diplomatic endeavours to protect children in armed conflicts.

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