During its presidency of the Security Council, Belgium convened a high-level briefing on February 12 on children and armed conflict. Coinciding with the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day, the briefing focused on integrating child protection into peace processes to resolve conflict and sustain peace.

Ahead of the Council meeting, Watchlist was invited to a small, closed door meeting with Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin and Queen Mathilde of Belgium. Participants included Jo Becker, Watchlist’s Advisory Board chair and advocacy director for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division; Adrianne Lapar, Watchlist program director; Dragica Mikavica, senior advocacy advisor at Save the Children; and José Tarache, a former child soldier from Colombia invited by Belgium and hosted by Watchlist. Watchlist shared its recent work on the military detention and ill-treatment of children in armed conflict, highlighting that children affected by armed conflict should be treated primarily as victims. Participants also thanked Belgium for its leadership on children and armed conflict, especially through its chairmanship of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

At the Security Council briefing, chaired by Belgian Foreign Minister Goffin, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented the new Practical Guidance for Mediators to Protect Children in Situations of Armed Conflict. Produced by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAAC) in partnership with the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations, UNICEF, and other stakeholders, the practical guidance was developed at the request of the Security Council, in a 2017 Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2017/21).

Belgium invited Jo Becker, in her capacity as chair of Watchlist’s Advisory Board, to brief the Council on behalf of civil society. Ms. Becker highlighted Watchlist’s research and analysis of child protection in peace processes. With fewer than 18 percent of relevant agreements since 1999 referring to children’s rights or protection, the inclusion of child protection provisions in peace agreements remains “the exception, not the norm.” Ms. Becker noted that “when children are excluded, their needs and their rights remain invisible.” She urged the Security Council to ensure that the needs and rights of children are addressed in peace processes, highlighting Watchlist’s Checklist for Drafting Children and Armed Conflict Provisions into Peace Agreements.

“We know that children suffer disproportionately in times of war. They also benefit less in peace,” said Ms. Becker, noting that overlooking children’s interests and needs in post-conflict periods may create space for new grievances and make former child soldiers take up arms again. “Addressing the needs of conflict-affected children in peace process is not just a moral or a legal imperative – it is crucial to a durable peace,” she said.

The Security Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2020/3) stressing the need for a broad strategy of conflict prevention that addresses the causes of conflict in order to protect children in the long term. It also renewed its call on Member States, UN entities, and other stakeholders to integrate child protection provisions into all peace negotiations, ceasefire, and peace agreements and encouraged the Secretary-General and the SRSG-CAAC to broadly disseminate the practical guidance to relevant actors. In line with Watchlist’s previous calls, the Council called for prioritizing the protection and empowerment of children affected by armed conflict in the post-conflict recovery and reconstruction processes.

To read Ms. Becker’s full remarks to the Security Council, please visit: https://watchlist.org/statement-to-the-un-security-council-on-child-protection-in-peace-processes/.