Congo-Kinshasa: To mark the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, the Special Representative is launching the Children and Armed Conflict Primer

The longtime mission of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DR Congo leaves a complex legacy, providing safety to displaced populations even as peacekeepers were accused of sexual abuse. While some celebrate their departure, others predict a dangerous security vacuum.
16 February 2024

As we mark the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, commonly known as the Red Hand Day, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, reaffirms her commitment to the protection of children affected by armed conflict in all regions of the world.

The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups remains one of the most prevalent grave violations against children during armed conflict. In 2022, 7,622 children were found to have been recruited and used by parties to conflict as highlighted in the last Secretary General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict  (A/77/895 S/2023/363). The highest numbers were verified in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Mali, and Afghanistan.

In 2023, children continued to be recruited and used, whether as spies or cooks, in combat roles or as human shields. Whatever their roles, children used by parties to conflict are exposed to unspeakable cruelty, with serious implications for their physical and psychological well-being. Although boys continue to be targeted disproportionately, girls are also recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups and often experience rape and other forms of sexual violence, including sexual slavery, once recruited.

Since the establishment of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate 28 years ago, more than 200,000 children have been released from armed groups and armed forces, including through the work of the United Nations. As encouraging as these numbers are,  more needs to be done. Victims bear the trauma of war throughout the rest of their lives and are often stigmatized and doubly victimized: first by the armed groups that recruit them, then upon their return to their community. The reintegration of those children should be a priority and is essential to ensuring long-term peace and security.

“I call on the international community to continue its political, technical, and financial support to the sustainable reintegration of all children released from parties to conflict and provide them with disability inclusive, gender and age-sensitive programmes, including access to education and health services. I remind that children should always be treated primarily as victims in line with international standards”, stated the Special Representative.

To continue the efforts to end and prevent grave violations against children and to mark this year’s Red Hand Day, the Special Representative is proud to announce the launch of an online course, the Children and Armed Conflict Primer. This course has been developed by the Office of the Special Representative and the United Nations System Staff College thanks to the financial support of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta, and builds on the lessons learned of the pilot Virtual Summer School on Child Protection in Armed Conflict organized in 2022.

This initiative aims to raise awareness and knowledge of the Children and Armed Conflict agenda. It is meant to empower and enable participants to contribute to the implementation of the agenda through their work and advocacy, thus ultimately contributing to ending and preventing grave violations against children affected by armed conflict. This free and self-paced online course is open to all and targets a diverse range of professionals, including from, governments, the United Nations, regional organizations, civil society, and academia.

"Together, let us strive to end and prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict and build a future where the rights and well-being of every child are safeguarded," concluded Virginia Gamba.

Ariane Lignier, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, New York.

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