On 13 October 2020, Humanium attended a virtual meeting with Virginia Gamba; UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (UN SRSG/CAAC). As a partner of Child Rights Connect and a member of a working group on the rights of children in armed conflict, Humanium had the opportunity to participate in the event with other organisations including Defence for Children International (DCI), Terre des Hommes, Save the Children and Plan International, and to voice its concerns about children in armed conflict. In addition to violations of children’s rights in conflict situations, participants also discussed the highly degrading situation of children since the emergence of Covid-19.
An Overview by Virginia Gamba: The impact of Covid-19 on the situation of children throughout the world
A slower UN organisation
Virginia Gamba’s mandate as United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict ends in January 2021. She is calling for all possible measures to be taken to improve the results of humanitarian operations in countries where Covid-19 has had serious consequences. A list of 21 countries has been drawn up where the consequences of the pandemic are severe. Burkina Faso and Cameroon have been added to the 19 original countries.
According to Gamba, the pandemic has brought new challenges to normal UN procedures. Cases of human rights violations and other UN field studies are still being reported, but because documentation and allegations have to be verified internally at the United Nations (UN), and these processes take time, now such verifications are slower than ever. This ultimately affects the publication of these findings and then the actions to be taken, slowing down the implementation of child protection measures.
During the meeting, Virginia Gamba also reminded participants that in some places, UN working groups on the ground are not able to access the sources. Thanks to the workshops and training organised by the UN to address these issues and establish contacts on the ground, follow-up has not necessarily disappeared, but is slower. Because of the pandemic and its effects, many countries are not meeting their commitments. Indeed, action plans are delayed. From the outset, the deadlines were missed, but then some countries continued to delay them.
During the exchange with the organisations at the meeting, Virginia Gamba said that violations of humanitarian law have increased by 400% this year, followed by a rise in denial of humanitarian access. Therefore, Virginia Gamba called for a review of certain aspects of the rules of humanitarian aid to better understand the factors behind denial of access and to enable a more effective global response in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, she reported that there have been an increasing number of cases where schools have been used for military purposes because they are empty. As this is not seen as an attack on education, schools could sometimes end up being militarised or the number of schools could be reduced in some places. Schools are therefore not safe environments for many of the world’s children, as they are seen as possible targets in a conflict and registered as armed bases.
According to Gamba, the phenomenon of attacks on health centres, having started in Afghanistan and Colombia, is also growing in more and more countries, such as the Philippines. It is therefore essential to advocate for the protection of health centres and to develop more initiatives to try to put an end to these practices, as they affect access to health services more than ever during Covid-19, with children being the most affected.
The Grave Situation of Children in Many Countries
During the discussion, representatives of Save the Children also addressed the consequences of Covid-19 and agreed with Virginia Gamba on the humanitarian situation. There is indeed a fear that there will be a step backwards regarding children’s rights and that this will affect all the progress made in previous years. For example, children around the world are suffering from increasing food insecurity due to the pandemic. Despite the fact that the situation is worsening, Virginia Gamba pointed out that sometimes her office’s mission is not understood and as a result, for example, training around child protection is poor in some countries. This is true in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where her mandate is particularly difficult, and children’s rights are still insufficiently respected.
Finally, according to Virginia Gamba, an old phenomenon is increasing. The recruitment of children in armed conflicts has risen considerably this year. Many countries face this pattern, such as Yemen, Palestine, Somalia, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Colombia. In these countries, governments have made many commitments to protect children and their rights, which have not been respected so far. In Myanmar, the situation is also tense, particularly with the national elections that took place on 8 November 2020. In such a context, committing to children’s rights is particularly important as well as difficult. The case of Yemen is alarming, with serious reported violations, abuses, recruitment of children, and threats to UN workers. Moreover, although armed groups in Yemen have agreed to release children and stop recruitment, this has not happened. Many other challenges are present as a result of Covid-19, particularly given the fact that UN staff members have not been able to be physically present in some countries.
Humanium supports Virginia Gamba and her fight for the protection of children and strongly affirms that the global humanitarian situation is serious and that there is a need for a new debate on the humanitarian rules applied during a pandemic such as Covid-19.
Let’s Act Now
Virginia Gamba and Humanium call on all actors involved in child protection to communicate with her and help mitigate the impact of Covid-19. We must all advocate for peace processes, and even when these are not possible, every effort must be made to protect the fundamental rights of children. Prevention is the key; we must act before harm is done to children. While Virginia Gamba’s mandate as Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is under attack and criticism, she needs help from everyone.
Humanium is proud to continue its efforts within its various working groups on children’s rights with partner organizations. If you are an actor defending children’s rights and you want to participate in improving the respect for their rights, especially in these difficult times due to Covid-19, please collaborate directly with Virginia Gamba and her Office, which finances all kinds of projects.
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Written by Adrian Lakrichi
Translated by Anna Carthy