On July 19, 2022, the United Nations Security Council held its annual open debate on children and armed conflict (CAAC) under Brazil’s presidency. H.E. Ambassador Fernando Simas Magalhães, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, chaired the open debate, which was held in person for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The open debate provided an opportunity for Member States to discuss implementation of the CAAC agenda, with a particular focus on three topics: (i) protection of refugee, internally displaced, and stateless children; (ii) abduction of children and its differentiated impacts on girls and boys; and (iii) reintegration of children and peacebuilding.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba, presented the main findings of the Secretary-General’s (SG) 2022 annual report on CAAC (A/76/871-S/2022/493), which documents nearly 24,000 grave violations in 2021. The SRSG-CAAC reflected on the harms children faced from explosive weapons in populated areas, improvised explosive devices, and explosive remnants of war, as well as the impacts on children of violent extremism, disregard for international law, and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The SRSG-CAAC concluded by citing some positive steps taken to protect children last year, including new action plans signed in Mali and Yemen and the release and reintegration of over 12,200 children from armed forces and armed groups.

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Catherine Russell, called on Member States to adhere to international law and move beyond its minimum requirements to ensure more effective protection of children, including by endorsing measures like the Safe Schools Declaration and the Paris Principles. She further encouraged Member States to use their influence with warring parties to protect children, as well as to defend, fund, and strengthen the CAAC agenda.

Youth advocate and former child soldier Patrick Kumi spoke on behalf of civil society and shared his experiences growing up during the armed conflict in South Sudan. Abducted, tortured, and forcibly recruited by an armed group, Patrick eventually fled to Uganda, where he received reintegration support. He participated in VoiceMore, a youth-led advocacy program of the NGO War Child. Patrick and his friends later founded the NGO Similar Ground, a refugee youth-led peacebuilding and advocacy community-based organization that empowers young refugees and hosts capacity-building initiatives. Drawing on the views of youth in his community, Patrick presented four recommendations to the Council, including: (i) better quality reintegration for children impacted by war; (ii) improving the sustainability of humanitarian response and programming through support for local civil society; (iii) enabling children and youth to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes; and (iv) ensuring accountability for rights violations.

In the ensuing discussion, Member States reflected on various themes, notably accountability for grave violations against children and the need for adherence to international law, and many also highlighted the new situations of concern, particularly Ukraine. Several statements reiterated that the SG’s annexed list of perpetrators should accurately and consistently reflect the evidence collected and verified by the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), echoing concerns raised in a May 31 open letter to the SG from 18 civil society organizations. Other prominent topics included the need to strengthen reintegration programming, support for child protection capacity in UN peace operations and special political missions, and the importance of ensuring inclusive education for children impacted by armed conflict, including girls, the displaced, and those with disabilities.

Watchlist’s comprehensive analysis of the open debate is forthcoming.