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Ten years on, Machel Review cites continued abuse against children in conflicts


Dozens of conflicts around the world are still robbing children of their childhood, according to a new UN report that reviews progress since the groundbreaking 1996 study on children in armed conflict by Ms. Graça Machel.

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The report, by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF, highlights the changing and devastating impact of conflicts on children. It notes that advances have been made in protecting children from war crimes such as unlawful recruitment by armed forces and groups and sexual violence. It also urges the international community to take concrete actions to stop abuses of children in armed conflict.

“The international community has been very active in developing a solid legal protection framework,” said Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. “But much more must be done to ensure compliance, to fight impunity and to address all violations against children.”

Over the past decade, conflict has impacted children more brutally than ever. They are victims of strikes against schools and of abductions aimed at forcing them to serve as combatants, sex slaves or servants. And in conflict zones their vulnerability is often greatly increased because violence claims their first line of defense - their parents.

“Threats to children caught in conflict are increasing,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “They are no longer just caught in the crossfire. They are increasingly the intended targets of violence, abuse and exploitation, victims of myriad armed groups that prey on civilians.”

But the damage that war wreaks on children’s lives is not limited to attacks by combatants. Malnutrition, disease, displacement and poverty also threaten them.

The report urges all UN member states to fulfill their responsibilities to children, by providing them with access to basic services like education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. “The needs of children must be prioritized before, during and after conflict. They must be part of all peace-making and peace-building processes,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

Other key recommendations include a call to end impunity for those responsible for heinous crimes against children. This means ensuring prosecution of war crimes and adherence to relevant international norms, many of which have been established since the original Machel study was published.

Ten years ago the original landmark Machel study alerted the world to the brutal realities faced by children recruited by armed groups and on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

This new report notes progress in preventing the recruitment of children as well as in demobilizing them and aiding their reintegration into society. Concerted international action has also led to advancements in combating sexual violence.

Some important achievements in this regard are the first prosecutions by international tribunals, the commitment of the Security Council to monitor and address the issues and the adoption of new international laws and standards. These include Optional Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Paris Principles to prevent the unlawful recruitment and use of children.

However helping children recover from the trauma caused by their experiences and ensuring their long term reintegration into their communities remains a considerable challenge.

This follow-up strategic review offers concrete recommendations for the next decade, including a call for member states and civil society to safeguard children living in the more-than-50 conflict zones around the world, as well as those struggling in post-conflict settings.


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