On September 19, in a side-event held during the General Assembly’s High-Level week, Child Protection Advisers (CPA) from the UN’s Peacekeeping Missions in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) addressed Member States on the work they do in the field to better protect children living in areas affected by armed conflict. In addition to UN Child Protection Advisers, NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM) ‘Senior Child Protection Adviser’ in Kabul, Afghanistan, also spoke. The event allowed panelists to discuss challenges and successes, and express their views on how to better respond to grave violations committed against children in conflicts. Moreover, the event highlighted the critical role played by child protection staff at a time when the UN is moving forward with peacekeeping reform.

As background, CPAs are specialist staff sent to Peacekeeping Missions to help them fulfill their child protection mandates. According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), CPAs are tasked with the following:

  • Placing the concerns of children onto the peace and political agenda.
  • Ensuring that child protection is an integral part of the mission’s engagement, including through mainstreaming and advising the mission leadership.
  • Training newly deployed peacekeepers on child protection, which complements the child protection training every peacekeeper must receive prior to his or her deployment.
  • Acting as an advocate, facilitator, and an adviser to the mission leadership on pertinent child protection issues.
  • Monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children.
  • Liaising with UNICEF and other child protection actors for follow-up and response to individual cases.[1]

Most importantly, CPAs play a key role in establishing dialogue with perpetrators to end the gravest violations against children. This dialogue has led to the signing of 27 action plans to end and prevent violations by 26 listed military and armed groups, and the release of thousands of child soldiers.

While CPA’s contributions to the implementation of the UN Security Council’s Children and Armed Conflict (CAC) agenda are essential, in 2015 then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated that dedicated capacities on child protection would be consolidated within the Human Rights Division of UN peace operations. The intended aim was to enhance coherence in the delivery of human rights and protection mandates. This consolidation is now underway in UN Peacekeeping Missions in the Central African Republic, Mali, and Somalia. Missions in the DRC, South Sudan, and Darfur (Sudan) are to be consolidated in the near future.

When the UN Secretary-General first announced his intentions to consolidate DPKO’s dedicated child protection capacity within the human rights components of UN missions, Watchlist and its Members wrote to the Secretary-General to express our concerns. We underscored the importance of the specialized role and function of CPAs, and the need to preserve, robustly resource, and politically support these sections.

For example, MONUSCO – the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC – has the largest Child Protection Section (CPS) in any peacekeeping mission. It has specialized staff based in eight field offices in the eastern region, Province Orientale, as well as in the mission’s headquarters in Kinshasa. As a direct result, the Congolese Armed Forces reportedly are close to being de-listed for recruitment and use of child soldiers – a major accomplishment of the CAC agenda. But, MONUSCO’s CPS, as well as Child Protection in other Peacekeeping Missions, is under pressure due to requested budget cuts by UN Member States on the one hand, and the impact of consolidation of child protection within the human rights components on the other.

These pressures may negatively impact the UN’s ability to effectively end and prevent child rights’ violations in armed conflict as without adequate staff and budget dedicated to child protection in peacekeeping and political missions, it will be impossible for the UN to monitor, report and respond to grave violations in the field.

In response to such concerns, Watchlist has been calling on the Security Council to preserve standalone capacity of UN peacekeeping and political missions to monitor, report, and respond to grave violations of children’s rights, and to evaluate the impact of consolidation on child protection specifically.

A summary of the CPA’s individual testimonies, as well as comments made by the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, and the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Margot Wallström, can be found here on the website of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

[1] The responsibilities of CPAs are further detailed in the UN’s recently released ‘Child Protection in United Nations Peace Operations Policy’, effective June 1, 2017.