Thank you very much for organising this event to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. I’m delighted that, despite the challenging circumstances created by the pandemic, so many people – in particular young people – have come together virtually for tomorrow’s Red Hand Day. Many of you have been championing the rights and protection of children for many years. I consider it an honour to share the Federal Government’s standpoint with you today from the Federal Foreign Office.
Exactly twenty years ago, the international community decided to ban the involvement of children in armed hostilities. Children must not be used as soldiers. Children must be protected from violence! Just like everyone here today, they have a right to shape their own future.
During these last twenty years, and this is the good news, around 170,000 children have been released from governmental armed forces and armed groups. Even today, however, hundreds of thousands of children are being recruited as soldiers and deployed in armed conflicts throughout the world. Everyone who reads about that is shocked. UNICEF says that at least 250,000 children are currently suffering this fate. The Federal Government condemns this in the strongest possible Terms!
It is our duty, the duty of all governments, to finally put a stop to the use of child soldiers. Our message to adult perpetrators must be: your crimes will not be forgotten, they will be prosecuted! And we want to say to the children affected: you are not perpetrators, but victims of violence.
But I don’t think I need to tell you that. After all, you’re all here – experts and activists, highly dedicated and motivated – to help ensure that children are kept out of wars. Or that, should they be recruited, they are subsequently reintegrated into society, looked after and supported.
We, the new Federal Government, are determined to do even more for children in terms of practical policies. In Germany, for example, by anchoring children’s rights in the Basic Law. And by giving all children and young people a better start in life with the introduction of a guaranteed child allowance.
And beyond Germany’s borders, we want to tackle the climate crisis! For climate change and its consequences often hit children especially hard: environmental disasters, droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events rob families of their livelihoods. That can lead to children being forced to earn a living by taking part in conflicts – or by taking on other degrading or dangerous Jobs.
Child and forced labour also seems to have been on the rise again around the world as a result of the pandemic. One way we want to tackle that is with the new Supply Chain Act. This law is intended to prevent child labour in our companies’ supply chains. Our goal is very clear: the abolition of child labour by 2030!
But let’s get back to Red Hand Day. At the United Nations in New York – for example in the Security Council – Germany has ensured time and again that the protection of children in armed conflicts remains a priority. Together with partner countries, every year we call for existing standards to be reaffirmed and thus consolidated: human rights, international humanitarian law, international standards for the juvenile justice system or, for instance, the Safe Schools Declaration, whose aim is to protect schools from armed conflicts.
We urge the international community to bring perpetrators to justice – but to treat children as victims and not as perpetrators. This also includes children linked to terrorist groups – they, too, should be supported so that they can build a peaceful future for themselves.
To this end, Germany funds United Nations organisations and NGOs working in war zones which are seeking to help the children affected – for example, UNICEF in Afghanistan and Venezuela; Plan International and Save the Children in Mali and Tanzania. The German Embassy in Nepal is funding an education project there for former child soldiers, while our Embassy in Mexico supports a children’s rights organisation which is helping to prevent the forced recruitment of children by criminal groups. Last year, we doubled our funding for humanitarian assistance of this kind. We have provided 2.6 billion euro, making us the world’s second largest donor.
Afterwards, you will be talking about small arms, which the Federal Government also considers to be an important issue. We, too, believe that small arms should not fall into the hands of children! No other kind of weapon claims more victims around the world, both during conflicts and long afterwards. For these weapons are robust, cheap, easy to acquire and they remain in circulation for years. We’re therefore cooperating with international organisations to ensure that access to small arms is more strictly controlled and reduced, thus lessening the dangers they pose.
I hope that this insight into what the Federal Government has done so far and what it intends to do in future to improve the protection of children in conflict areas will be useful for your exchange today. After all, it’s important and indeed necessary that we all join forces to tackle the global challenge of the continued use of child soldiers.
I would like to thank you for your commitment and your creativity in seeking solutions and measures, which I’d like to carry on following. All the best and till the next time. Now it’s your turn!