On 25 March 2015, France, president of the UN Security Council during the month of March, hosted the first of what will be two Open Debates on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) taking place in 2015. The second Open Debate is scheduled for June under the presidency of Malaysia, the Chair of the Security Council Working Group on CAAC, following the publication of the Secretary-General’s 14th Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.

The March Open Debate centered on the theme “Children Victims of Non-State Actors.” This was the first Open Debate to specifically discuss methods to end and prevent grave violations against children by armed non-state actors (ANSAs). In addition to the Secretary General, the Council was also addressed by Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Julie Bodin, Child Protection Technical Advisor for Save the Children International in the Central African Republic, and Mr. Junior Nzita, former child soldier and President of Paix pour l’enfance. France invited Member States to deliver concrete proposals in their statements, and to commit to the Paris Principles and Guidelines on children associated with armed forces or groups to mark their engagement. Although France did not seek an outcome document, it plans to synthesize all the different ideas and proposals put forward by Member States during the debate on the above theme.

During the full-day debate, 80 speakers shared statements reflecting overall support of the CAAC agenda. Many addressed the growing threat of armed groups, highlighting the growing number of attacks and recruitment and abduction of children by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) during 2014. Several speakers called for expansion of Resolution 1612 to include abductions as a “trigger” for listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report. Some speakers also included in their messages calls for increased child protection training for peacekeepers and inclusion of child protection in ceasefire and peace negotiations.

The March Open Debate marked one year since the launch of the campaign, “Children not Soldiers.” Many speakers commended the progress of the campaign, which aims to end recruitment and use by government security forces by 2016. To date, seven countries are involved in the campaign; however, the vast majority of parties listed in the annual report, 51 out of 59, are ANSAs operating in 15 situations of armed conflict. Of these, only 12 ANSAs have signed action plans with the United Nations. Some speakers called for more to be done to establish action plans with armed groups, however, the issue of accessing and negotiating with armed groups was also prevalent in the speakers’ remarks.

A full analysis of the debate and the impact of Watchlist’s messages is forthcoming.