United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)  recently organized a symposium in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan as a platform for the victims of the long-running conflict in the country. They are calling for the inclusion of their voices in the peace discussions. Among the voices completely unheard in the midst of this conflict are those children. 

UNAMA’s 2019 mid-year report recorded 3,812 civilian casualties in the first half of the year. 1,207 of these casualties were children, which amounts to a third of the recorded figure. 

This figure comes more staggering if we consider the global scale. In 2018 alone, more than 12,000 children were confirmed to be either maimed or killed. These are “record levels” according to Virginia Gamba, the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

In light of this Gamba urged the UN Security Council to come together in order to address this problem. She highlighted the need for a united front in protecting children trapped in conflict.

“Access and actors in the field must be the priority to protect children and prevent violations,” Gamba remarked in a recent open debate

During armed conflict, UN specifies six grave violations against children:

  1. Recruitment and use of children 
  2. Killing or maiming of children 
  3. Sexual violence against children 
  4. Attacks against schools or hospitals 
  5. Abduction of children 
  6. Denial of humanitarian access

While efforts are being made to reduce the numbers of children harmed during conflict, there is still a long way to go. 

“Unfortunately, for all our efforts to date, we are not yet at a point where we can be confident that the situation is improving year upon year,” Gamba noted.

This is wake-up call to double the efforts in ensuring the protection of our children. They are among the most powerless in times of conflict. Therefore, leaders should provide more attention, protection, and access for them. 

We cannot afford to be making record highs each year. We have to protect human rights.

The detention of thousands of children around the world for their actual or alleged association with armed groups is also deeply concerning. The Special Representative reminded that legal procedures should comply with international juvenile justice standards, children should be primarily treated as victims of recruitment and use and alternatives to detention should be sought whenever possible. “Children exposed to the highest levels of violence should not be further ostracized once released from armed groups and armed forces. These children are victims of recruitment and use and their best interest must be given primary consideration”.

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