New Zealand strongly supports the Children and Armed Conflict agenda, and reaffirms its support for the Paris Commitments, the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, and the development of the Safe Schools Declaration.
The majority of those listed in the Secretary-General’s report are non-state armed groups who commit some of the most egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law against children.
Good work has been done to address this, with effective cooperation between the UN, states and non-state actors - but we must do more.
As states, our own actions must match those we expect of non-State armed groups.
Whether it be agreeing an action plan, supporting the Children not Soldiers campaign, or providing child protection training for our peacekeepers – all 193 of us can do something.
For its part, the UN must effectively implement its own human rights due diligence policy, and must undertake thorough vetting of its staff.
Child protection training should be mandatory for all uniformed and civilian peace-keeping personnel.
More can be done to mainstream child protection approaches across the UN’s work.
We’d particularly welcome the provision of guidance for mediators on addressing conflict-related violations against children in ceasefire and peace agreements, and the inclusion of relevant child protection expertise in sanctions expert groups.
Regional organisations also have a role to play - the declaration agreed between the SRSG’s Office and the African Union is an excellent example.
Engaging non-State armed groups to prevent abuses against children is complex and sensitive – they have different motives, tactics, structures and degrees of cohesiveness, with extremist groups posing particular challenges.
But, experience shows that, in the right circumstances, engaging such groups can produce results – particularly agreement on action plans.
So, we encourage enhanced cooperation between governments, the SRSG and relevant child protection actors to ensure that more of these action plans are agreed with non-State armed groups.
It’s critical that we find ways to incentivise their engagement – and there, civil society often enjoys an access and legitimacy that's denied to others.
In our own Pacific region, New Zealand has supported civil society envoys who can engage communities most affected by day-to-day violence, and can often address highly sensitive issues in a culturally appropriate manner.
Asia-Pacific offers other examples of effective engagement, tailored to local circumstances – for example, in Myanmar, where the UN agreed an action plan with state security forces.
Engaging ethnic armed groups can be more challenging, but civil society can often help secure commitments from armed groups, particularly to release child combatants.
We must also address the causes that lead children to join non-State armed groups, including socio-economic marginalisation.
In situations of protracted conflict, joining armed groups can be a means of survival, or a way out of poverty; it can also confer status on self or family.
To reduce the risk of re-recruitment, we need comprehensive reintegration programmes, particularly for girls, and children with disabilities; so we encourage the SRSG, UNICEF and others to continue working on this.
It is important that we continue to improve child protection practices.
We therefore propose that, in collaboration with UN and other stakeholders, the SRSG should develop a working paper on engaging non-State armed groups, drawing on the best practices and innovative tools, some of which have been identified today.
That paper could form a basis from which we can work to develop durable solutions for the better protection of children in armed conflict – which is, after all, the objective we all should be seeking.