Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, on the Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, 2 August 2019

Madame President,

On the outset, I would like to thank Poland for organising this open debate on Children and Armed Conflict. The debate is timely as it coincides with the celebration of the 10th Year Anniversary of the Security Council Resolution 1882 (2009), which added an additional emphasis to the Children and Armed Conflict agenda regarding the violations of killing, maiming and sexual violence.

I would also like to thank all the briefers for their insightful briefings.  

Madame President

It is concerning that after a decade of the adoption of Resolution 1882, there are still thousands of boys and girls killed, maimed, abducted, fall victims of sexual violence and are denied access to humanitarian assistance. Their basic rights to education and health are threatened as their schools and hospitals are closed or cease to function as a result of violent attacks as we witness in many conflict areas in the world.

We are deeply disturbed by the Secretary General’s report which stated that more than 24 000 grave violations against children were verified by the United Nations in 20 countries in 2018. Children represent an alarming percentage and overall number of casualties of war; as refugees and internally displaced children, unaccompanied minors, trafficking or sexual slaves are only a few additional growing concerns to which children are more vulnerable in times of crisis.

Madame President,

South Africa welcomes the SRSG’s efforts to sign Action Plans with the parties of armed conflict to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children as well as other grave violations. It is paramount that these Action Plans are concrete and their time bound measures are implemented.

We also commend UNICEF for their rapid response to urgently support children in emergencies and engagements with all parties to negotiate humanitarian access and building trust on all sides in order to serve children.

South Africa welcomes the release of 13 600 children from armed forces and armed groups. However, we remain concerned about the manner in which children are forced to take an active part in hostilities, including carrying out suicide bombings against civilians.

We call upon the armed groups to stop with the recruitment and use of children into armed forces. We are aware that children, particularly girls, associated with such armed conflicts are vulnerable to sexual abuse including sexual slavery. Resolution 2467 (2019) is instrumental as it aims to prevent these grave violations and provides for protection of girls from sexual violence during conflict.

The detention of children who are part or perceived to be associated with parties to conflict is worrisome. It is important that these children are treated primarily as victims. States have an obligation to ensure that relevant programmes are put in place to ensure that children are reintegrated into society after they have been released from armed groups. Although South Africa applauds the measures put in place by countries such as the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan to improve the protection of children, a greater focus needs to be placed on extensive child reintegration programmes. We therefore commend the SRSG and UNICEF for launching the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers in September 2018 to encourage greater support for child reintegration.

We are aware that in many situations perpetrators of grave violations remain unidentified. Even in cases where programmes and mechanisms to advance accountability exist, they often fail to achieve tangible outcomes for children. Access to justice is imperative for the advancement of children’s rights and for defending their legitimate interests. This is paramount for their psychological and psychosocial development in ensuring that they are able to grow and develop into adulthood, free of fear and unintended irreversible consequences.

Madam President,

On 16 June 1976, thousands of black South African school children took to the streets to protest about the inferior quality of education they were subjected to and demanded the right to be taught in their own native languages. Hundreds of them were shot dead and in the weeks of protests that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured. To honour their courage and in memory of those killed, in 1991, the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) established the Day of the African Child. The day also draws the attention to the lives of African children today.

The Day of the African Child’s objective is to remember these children to celebrate in Africa as well as to inspire a sober reflection and action towards addressing the plethora of challenges that children in Africa face on a daily basis.  

In conclusion Madame President,

Children are fundamental to the future of peaceful and prosperous societies in all corners of the world. It is imperative that we partner, globally, regionally and nationally, to combine our efforts to collectively strengthen institutions and services for children, including justice, education and health services.

Addressing the root causes of conflict should be the primary objective to prevent violations against children. My delegation wishes to emphasise the importance of providing the necessary support to these boys and girls to thrive in their reintegration process and have opportunities for a better and brighter future.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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