The cost of conflict, as war too often demonstrates, is borne by the most vulnerable members of society. Children pay with their lives for the devastating economic and humanitarian consequences of war. Survivors of conflict, including children, are left with the burden of rebuilding destroyed communities. The unrelenting spread of COVID-19, particularly in conflict-affected areas, exacerbates the effects of war. We come together today to express our outrage at violations of international law against children; and to restate our commitment to the agenda first endorsed here 25 years ago: every child deserves protection from the ravages of war, so they may enjoy a life of safety, fulfilment, and happiness.
Accordingly, the UAE would like to reaffirm its deep commitment to the protection of children in conflict, in accordance with international law and the Security Council framework on children and armed conflict. We take this opportunity to commend the tireless efforts of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, and her office, to strengthen the protection of children in conflict situations around the world. Further, as a member of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, the UAE reiterates its commitment to continue our strong engagement and cooperation with the Special Representative, which, together with the protective and precautionary measures the Coalition has taken, is recognized in the decision to maintain the delisting of the Coalition for a second year.
The UAE is deeply concerned by the findings in the latest report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. Even with the challenges to verification and reporting of incidents caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there continues to be a sustained high number of grave violations against children, reaching almost 24,000 verified violations committed in 2020 alone.
Against that backdrop, COVID-19 has increased children’s vulnerability and posed considerable challenges to educational and healthcare systems. These challenges underline the necessity of unimpeded, safe and timely humanitarian and medical access. It is concerning that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, the number of verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access has remained at roughly 2019 levels. The UAE condemns the significant rise in the denial of humanitarian access to children by the Houthis in Yemen, who, as noted by the Secretary General, remain the overwhelming perpetrator of all such verified violations in Yemen. The UAE has emphasised the provision of medical care and lifesaving assistance in conflict situations globally, including equipment and much-needed medicine, as well as serving as a logistical hub for the delivery of humanitarian assistance around the world.
Considering the strain COVID-19 has placed on humanitarian assistance, there is a need to prioritise mechanisms and institutions that protect children in conflict areas. It is particularly critical that the UN system has the resources to implement its mandate. In this regard, the UAE contributed $37.5m to UNICEF in 2021, and in total over $100 million in recent years, to support its crucial efforts in expanding access and protecting children in Yemen.
It is also important to recognise that conflict affects girls and boys differently. In particular, the Secretary-General noted 85 per cent of children recruited and used in combat in 2020 were boys, however 98 per cent of sexual violence was perpetrated against girls. The prevention of conflict-related sexual violence against children should be at the heart of this agenda. This can only be achieved by embedding gender-sensitive efforts not only in our responses to conflict, but also in our efforts towards conflict-prevention.
In order to mitigate the impact of armed conflict on children, the UAE would like to propose two recommendations:
First, we must develop and promote reintegration programming as a shared responsibility to support children coming out of conflict and re-joining their communities. Child soldiers suffer from serious and long-lasting physical and psychological harm, which can impede their ability to recover and participate in their community. Moreover, to be successful, reintegration typically requires medium to long-term engagement that can address children’s and their families’ needs. In light of the rising need, particularly given the constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus should be on providing support, in partnership with impacted states, to develop the capacity and viability of rehabilitation and reintegration services for both boys and girls.
Second, we must ensure approaches to protect all children are implemented in a gender-sensitive manner. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an alarming rise in sexual and gender-based violence, as well as severe limitations to access to education and essential medical services. Girls and young women are disproportionately affected by conflict, and their needs must be addressed adequately. This includes tackling harmful social norms that lead to the stigmatization of survivors.
As 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the children and armed conflict agenda, the United Arab Emirates reaffirms its commitment to the promotion of the rights of children in areas of armed conflict and the rehabilitation of survivors – to ensure a bright future for all. This commitment will guide us as we work with fellow Security Council Members during our 2022-2023 term. We look forward to collectively strengthen the progress made thus far and develop new ways to further this agenda.