PSC Session on Protection of Children in Conflict Situations in Africa

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 11 May, 2021

Tomorrow (11 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 995th session virtually, to discuss on the theme ‘protection of children in conflict situations in Africa’. The session is to be convened in the context of Council’s decision at its 420th meeting to hold annual sessions dedicated to children affected by armed conflicts (CAAC), as well as its decision at its 956th meeting to dedicate two sessions per year, to receive briefings on the situation of children affected by conflict situations, from the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) and related partners. As indicated in its information note, the main objective of the session is for Council to receive updates on the state of children’s rights in conflict situations and to reflect on how well protection of such children is integrated in AU conflict prevention, management and resolution architecture.

The session is set to start with the opening remark of the PSC Chairperson of the month and Permanent Representative of People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, Salah Francis Elhamdi. Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye and Commissioner of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Amira El Fadil will also make key remarks. Presentations are also expected from invited participants including ACERWC Special Rapporteur on CAAC, Save the Children, and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Tomorrow’s session is expected to highlight recent trends about how ongoing conflicts are affecting children in conflict affected areas. Various reports indicate that in the various conflict settings civilians bear much of the brunt of conflicts and crises. Children are among those most affected. This is the case whether in situations of armed conflict such as those in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions or in situations of terrorist violence in the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, Somalia and Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique.

Children are affected by violence both as indirect victims and direct targets of the violence. They end up sustaining physical violence, forced into displacement and fleeing into neighbouring countries as refugees as recent events in Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique and Tigray region of Ethiopia have highlighted. They also suffer the most, as the situation in South Sudan attest, from conflict induced hunger and malnutrition in conflict situations. Children are among the main victims of recruitment, use, sexual abuse and exploitation in conflict situations. The recurrent incidents of abduction of school girls and boys by Boko Haram has put spotlight on children as direct targets of terrorist attacks and abductions. Similar incidents of attacks on school have also been reported in conflict affected parts of Cameroon.

Even when children survive the physical effects of conflicts and terrorist violence, they are not spared from being deprived of access to basic necessities such as health care and lose opportunities due to disruption of their access to education. For instance, UN reports show that in Central Sahel alone, 4,000 schools were forced to cease function in early 2020 due to direct attacks and insecurity, leaving about 650,000 students out of education.

The rate of displacement of children has also been most concerning in recent months. By end of April this year, the UN has reported that 168,000 children were forced to flee their homes due to the widespread violence which broke out in Central African Republic (CAR) in the run- up to the elections of December 2020. In addition to the spike in displacement of children, the Covid-19 pandemic has further compounded the situation. Particularly, internally displaced (IDP) and refugee children continue to be excessively affected as a result of the outbreak of the pandemic. With that in mind, Council has emphasised at its 921st session, that part of the AU Covid-19 Response Fund should be directed towards provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees and IDPs among other vulnerable parts of society. Having regard to the accelerating rate of the pandemic in some parts of the continent and the potential impact on IDP and refugee children there, Council may reiterate this point and call on Member States to mobilise more support to those countries that have high numbers of IDP and refugee populations.

The first issue that these various issues affecting children in armed conflict raise is how to ensure protection of children during conflicts. This is not about the deployment of security measures only. In this respect, it is of significance that measures are taken to ensure that conflict actors observe human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) standards. This necessitates not only urging the actors to abide by these standards and reminding them of the responsibility they bear for violations of those standards but also putting in place mechanisms for monitoring, investigating and reporting incidents of violations. Additionally, it is incumbent on governments to facilitate humanitarian access and initiatives for protecting and supporting civilians and children affected by violence. The situation of displaced and refugee children not only in recent conflict situations but also those from frozen conflicts also deserves particular attention. Recurring incidents of attacks on schools also underscore the importance of and the need for upholding such frameworks as the ‘Safe School Declaration’, aimed at ensuring children in conflict situations continue to enjoy their right to education.

The second issue relates to the settlement of the conditions of conflict and terrorist violence, including the resolution of the underlying causes. In this respect, the issues requiring attention include absence of good governance and democratic inclusion, weak presence of state institutions and public services in areas far from urban centres, depleting resources on which communities depend for their livelihoods, marginalization and inequality and lack of respect for and protection of fundamental rights of affected people. Given the consequences of violence, there is also a need for initiating measures for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of conflict affected regions.

Tomorrow’s session also presents the chance for the PSC to follow up on its request at previous sessions, for the AU Commission to implement Assembly/AU/Dec.718 (XXXII), adopted at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly, convened on 10-11 February 2019. Assembly/AU/Dec.718 (XXXII) underscores four strategic resolutions essential to child protection, which are: the establishment of an accountability, monitoring and reporting mechanism; the development of a child protection architecture for the AU; the establishment of child focal points in all AU missions; and the establishment of an office of Special Envoy on children in situations of conflict. In this respect, the address from the two Commissioners’ remarks is expected to provide update on these four areas relating to AU’s role.

It is also to be recalled that at its previous session, Council was presented with the final ‘Policy on Integration of Child Protection into the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)’, developed by the AU Peace and Security Department (PSD). Tomorrow’s session presents the opportunity to examine the level of implementation of decisions related to child protection, within the framework of APSA, including relevant organs of Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs).

The form that the expected outcome of the session takes remains unknown. It is expected that the PSC will express its concern about the plight of children in conflict affected countries in Africa. The PSC may call on all parties to armed conflicts to comply with international, regional and national instruments applicable to the protection of children in conflict situations, including international human rights law and IHL. It may also call on the AU Commission to ensure the full operationalization and implementation of the AU mechanisms for protection of children in conflict situations. To ensure that children in armed conflicts continue to enjoy their basic rights, Council may urge all relevant actors to strive for ensuring that access to humanitarian assistance is guaranteed to enable children to get access to life saving services including food, health care and education. Council may also underscore the importance for Member States, the AU Commission, RECs/RMs and the international community to enhance their child protection capacity in conflict situations at the national, regional and continental levels. In this regard, the PSC may urge the international community to enhance its support for humanitarian assistance particularly for displaced and refugee children.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - Open Session on Protection of Children Affected by Armed Conflicts

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 18 November, 2020

Tomorrow (19th November), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to have an open session on children affected by armed conflicts (CAAC). This is the second open session of the month.

It is expected that following opening remarks by Chairperson of the PSC for November Tesfaye Yilma, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui and the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira El Fadil are set to make statements. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur on CAAC of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), Benyam Dawit Mezmur, will be making a presentation. Remember Miamingi, Child Protection Expert, is also expected to deliver a briefing on behalf of the Peace and Security Department (PSD) focusing on the Policy on integration of child protection into the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The PSC is also expected to receive updates on the state of children in situations of conflict in the continent from respective representatives of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Save the Children.

Tomorrow’s session will be the second session in 2020 focusing on the CAAC theme, the first one having taken place in May 2020 with a specific focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on children during the 924th PSC session. While COVID-19 related realities have lessened much of the attention on the plight of children in conflict situations, there is evidence demonstrating that the condition of children affected by armed conflicts continues to worsen. Tomorrow’s session is anticipated to serve as an opportunity to reflect on the situation of children, which has been further exacerbated due to the impact of COVID-19. It is also to be recalled that at its 924th meeting on the impact of COVID-19 on children, Council stressed that Member States’ responses to the pandemic should prioritise most vulnerable children in conflict situations including refugee and internally displaced children as well as children with disabilities. Tomorrow’s session may follow up on efforts committed in that regard.

The ACERWC has recently adopted a General Comment on children in conflict situations – ‘General Comment on Article 22 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC): Children in Armed Conflict’. The General Comment is mainly aimed at providing guidance to Member States on how to prevent violations of children’s rights in armed conflicts or situations of tension and strife. Among the novel issues addressed in the General Comment are the extraterritorial applicability of rights and duties enshrined under Article 22 of ACRWC, and stipulating the age of 18 as minimum age of recruitment into an army or armed groups. In addition, the General Comment provides direction on how to ensure protection of children in those situations, which may not meet the threshold of armed conflict but nonetheless create conditions for the violation of children’s rights. The PSC is expected to review and adopt a decision relating to this General Comment, in addition to reflecting on some of its features as to determine how it can integrate it as a document informing its works and decision-making.

Tomorrow’s session will also present the opportunity for the PSC to consider and adopt the ‘Policy on Integration of Child Protection into the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)’ and Miamingi’s presentation is expected to highlight the main aspects of the policy. The initiative to ensure integration of child protection within the framework of APSA was initially proposed by Save the Children in 2016, to be carried out as a three years project. The PSC is expected to welcome the final Policy developed by the PSD and reflect on the opportunities and challenges of integrating child protection concerns within APSA, including relevant organs of Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs).

It is also to be recalled that Assembly/AU/Dec.718 (XXXII) adopted at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly convened on 10-11 February 2019, underscored four strategic resolutions related to child protection. These are: the establishment of an accountability, monitoring and reporting mechanism; the development of a child protection architecture for the AU; the establishment of child focal points in all AU missions; and the establishment of an office of Special Envoy on children in situations of conflict. The PSC may call on all relevant actors to ensure implementation of Assembly/AU/Dec.718 (XXXII) having regard also to its contribution for the successful realisation of the goals of AU’s 2020 theme – Silencing the Guns in Africa – as well as Aspiration 4 of Agenda 2063 which places the need for a peaceful and secure continent as a prerequisite for the full realisation the entire Agenda.

At its 841st session held in April 2019 on the CAAC theme, the PSC made a request for Specialised Technical Committees (STC) dealing with education and humanitarian issues to propose practical recommendations regarding education of refugee and internally displaced children. Moreover, the AU Commission (AUC) was requested to expedite the preparation of the evaluation report on the implementation of PSC’s previous decisions on women and children in armed conflicts. The PSC may follow up on the status of these decisions at tomorrow’s session.

The updates regarding the situation of children in armed conflicts may be expected to reflect on some of the grave violations faced by children in countries with active conflicts as well as countries affected by terrorism. Various reports throughout 2020 have for instance indicated that children have suffered multiple violations in Boko Haram affected countries, mainly in Nigeria. Fear of stigma, retaliation and detention of children believed to be associated with the terrorist group are some of the main violations experienced in addition to the most common atrocious incidents of abduction and sexual violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. The worrying trend in the denial of humanitarian access to children in conflict zones in countries such as Central African Republic (CAR) is also another concern, which might feature on tomorrow’s briefings. The recent attacks on a school in Kumba, Cameroon, that killed at least six teachers and seven schoolchildren is another manifestation of the grave violations to which children are exposed in conflict situations at times for the simple reason of being at school.

The expected outcome of the session is a press statement. The PSC may adopt the policy on integrating child protection into APSA. It may also welcome the adoption of the General Comment and request the AUC to explore mechanisms to integrate the tool in the deliberation and engagement of the PSC on CAAC. The PSC may express its condemnation of violations targeting civilians and children including the attack on a school in Kumba in Cameroon and urge that measures are taken for safeguarding schools and children from attacks. It may call on concerned Member States and other relevant actors to comply with human rights law and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as well as obligations assumed under various international and regional instruments for the protection of children, by refraining from recruiting child soldiers or otherwise involving children in the crossfires of conflicts. Council may also call upon Member States emerging from armed conflicts to ensure that reintegration of child soldiers is part of their post-conflict reconstruction, stabilisation and development efforts. Member States may also be encouraged to adopt and implement all relevant legal and normative standards aimed at protecting children affected by armed conflicts. It may further urge member States of the AU to take mitigating measures to address the compounding impact of COVID19 for children affected by conflict


Insights on Peace & Security Council - VTC Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Security and Welfare of Children in Africa

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 11 May, 2020

Tomorrow (12 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will hold a briefing session on the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the security and welfare of children in Africa.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Special Rapporteur on Children Affected by Armed Conflicts (CAAC) of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) is expected to brief the Council. Representatives from the Department of Social Affairs and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) are also expected to brief the PSC.

The format of the meeting on this topic has usually been an open session. However due to the new working arrangements of the PSC, tomorrow’s meeting will be a closed session that will be conducted via VTC.

In the context of the mandate of the PSC and indeed the ordinary focus of this annual thematic session, a question that arises in respect to tomorrow’s session is whether the discussion will be confined to the situation of children in relation to COVID19 in the context of conflicts. It is envisaged that the briefing of the Special Rapporteur of ACERWC will have two objectives. The first is to provide the Council with an overview on the status of child protection during COVID19 and the multifaceted impacts of the pandemic on the protection and wellbeing of children. Second, the briefing is expected to present a Guiding Note for Children’s Rights in response to COVID-19 for PSC’s endorsement.

Of concern for PSC members is to address critical issues on child protection, more particularly in the context of conflicts.

In conflict situations, a major challenge in terms of protecting children from COVID19 is the possibility of implementation of the social distancing measures and access to water and sanitation, which are the frontline prevention measures. The congestion and poor sanitation of internally displaced persons camps or refugee camps mean that children, who constitute a significant percentage of the population in these camps lack the means for observing the COVID19 prevention measures and face a higher risk of exposure. The enforcement of COVID19 response measures such as lockdowns or curfews in countries affected by conflict or hosting refugees also exposes children to various threats including abuses, sexual and gender-based violence to the girl child.

The current heightened attention to contain the COVID-19 and the response measures can also create conditions that exacerbates the vulnerable conditions of children. Fighting forces wishing to score military advantages may, as witnessed in the conflicts in the Sahel, increase fighting endangering the security and life of children in affected areas. The COVID19 may also be used by fighting forces for recruiting children in an attempt to infuse their forces with new energy. The COVID19 response measures including travel restrictions and curfews, which highly constrain the work of humanitarian operations, have the effect of limiting the provision of services, including the ability of children to receive the appropriate vaccination, which are time sensitive.

COVID19 measures also affect children and increases the risk of their exposure to violence and violation of their rights due to the limitations on the operations of not only humanitarian actors but also civil society and media. It in particular undermines monitoring, investigation, reporting and protection work of various actors, thereby creating conditions that expose children to increased attacks and violations with impunity.

The suspension of school has direct impact on children that depend on school feeding and it also takes away the protection the school environment offers to children, including in the context of IDP or refugee camps. Moreover, distance learning options, which are introduced in some countries may not necessarily be feasible to many children that do not have access to internet connection and technological equipment. There are indeed fears that this would not only deepen the digital divide but also importantly the exclusion of children without access to online education, with dire consequences to their future opportunities. Children in areas affected by conflict would be affected the most from such shifts in delivery of classes.

The closure of schools has particularly affected girls not only in terms of increased burdens for domestic responsibilities in conflict affected settings but also harmful practices including female genital mutilation and forced marriage, which are reported to be on the rise during the pandemic. Low-income households use early and forced marriages as coping mechanisms. In this regard the briefing may also elaborate on the specific needs of the girl child in conflict situation.

The other adverse effect of closure of schools is the risk of military occupation of education facilities, with very serious consequences not only for the right to education of children but also to the safety and security of schools and hence children.

Another challenge that has emerged in the context of COVID19 and the response of states to the pandemic is the exclusion of IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers, putting the health and lives of the most vulnerable in these communities notably children in danger. The preventive efforts including testing and the provision of health and sanitation services need to take in consideration the special needs of children, particularly those in communities affected by conflicts including refugee camps.

One of the major protection issues that may be raised in tomorrow’s briefing is the impact of lockdowns, state of emergency laws and their enforcement on the safety and wellbeing of children. The expanded role of the state in this extraordinary situation needs to be examined to also prevent the use of excessive force that may lead to harming children, their parents or custodians.

The presentation may also make reference to the call of the Chairperson of the Commission, Moussa Faki Mahammat and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres for ceasefire of hostilities and urge belligerent parties to comply with this call including by preventing attacks and violence against children. Highlighting the devastating impacts of armed conflict on children and other vulnerable populations, the Secretary-General noted that these groups are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19. In the context of the upsurge in fighting in Libya involving the deliberate targeting of civilian areas leading to civilian casualties including children, Faki issued a statement on 10 May calling for ‘an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in order to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid relating to the fight against COVID19.’ It will be essential to reiterate this call by the Special Rapporteur to put children’s right at the centre of all the global, regional and national efforts.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. The PSC may take note of the wide range of risks and vulnerabilities experienced by children during COVID19 in the context of conflicts. It may reiterate the global call of Faki and Guterres for all fighting groups to cease all their hostilities in order to create the conditions for fighting COVID19. Considering the particular needs and rights of children in their response to the pandemic, the PSC may call on states to take due cognizance of the impact of COVID19 measures on children, particularly in areas affected by conflict. It may call on member states to strengthen their efforts in continuing the delivery of basic health services in addition to those related to COVID19. The PSC may also urge fighting forces and national authorities to allow the delivery of life saving humanitarian assistance by humanitarian actors to conflict affected populations including people in IDP camps or refugee camps. It may also call on states to ensure that protection measures cover IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers in order to safeguard children in these communities from the morbidity and mortality risks associated with contracting of COVID19.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - Open Session on the Implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration in the Promotion of Education for the  Children Affected by Armed Conflicts in Africa

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 11 March, 2020

Tomorrow (12 March) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council will convene an open session on the Implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration in the Promotion of Education for the Children Affected by Armed Conflicts in Africa. Sarah Anyang-Agbor Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology (HRST) and Admore Kambudzi, Director for Peace and Security Department are expected to deliver opening statements. Ambassador of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea may make a statement as the chair of the month.

Following the opening remarks a panel consisting of the African Committee on the Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) secretariat, CSOs and children affected by armed conflicts will also make a presentation on the topic within the context of Silencing the Guns. A representative from Save the Children, as a partner leading on the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) policy work in the PSC is also expected to make a presentation. The presentations are expected to examine the lessons learned and the way forward.

The deliberate target of schools by belligerent parties has deprived children of attaining their fundamental right to education in many conflict-affected countries in Africa. With the growing threat of terrorism and organized crime education facilities have been susceptible to these security threats. Although African member states have adopted a number of policy instruments to curb these violations, there is still need for strengthened protection regimes at national levels. Tomorrow’s session will focus on one of the global initiatives, which African countries are part of, the SSD.

As noted in the concept note the objective of the open session is to assess progress on the implementation of the SSD in the promotion of education for children affected by armed conflicts in Africa. The SSD, which was adopted in 2015, is a global intergovernmental initiative that aims at advancing the protection of education and limits the use of schools and universities for military purposes. The declaration makes emphasis on the need to collect data on attacks of educational facilities and victims, the need to continue education during conflict and investigate allegation of violations to provide assistance and justice to victims.
Since its adoption in 2015 three international conferences on safe schools have taken place every two years to assess the challenges and best practices across the world. In Africa, so far 28 countries have endorsed the declaration and tomorrow’s session may serve as a platform to exchange views on the level of implementation and the kind of impact the declaration has on the actual protection and promotion of the children’s rights. There is a wealth of practice and experience, which can be shared from various African countries. The session may also be an opportunity to remind member states that have not endorsed yet to do so and those that have, to strengthen their implementation and reporting mechanisms.

The presentations may also examine to what extent the ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’ are observed by members that have endorsed the SSD. The guideline amongst other issues includes the restriction on the use of schools and universities including abandoned ones, to refrain from the destruction of such facilities and avoid employing fighting forces to provide security to schools and universities.

The PSC has addressed the broader issue of CAAC since 2010 and has tabled it as a standing agenda item since 2014. Hence, while discussing this global commitment it will also be useful to place it within the context of existing policy and legal instruments of the AU. In this regard the presentation by the ACERWC secretariat may be beneficial in reminding member states of their obligations and responsibilities under African legal instruments namely the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child in addressing attacks on schools.

The other speakers and representatives of NGOs may also shed lights on the experiences at the national level. Presenters may share on country level policies and practices on making schools safe through the protection of education from attacks and military use in targeted member states. Cases from Kenya, Somalia, Burkina Faso and Nigeria are expected to feature.

Within the context of this year’s theme, Silencing the Guns, the session may further discuss on mechanisms to integrate the issue of CAAC in the peace and security agenda. It may be of interest for presenters and participants to reflect on how existing policy mechanisms can support the review and follow the implementation of provisions related to CAAC and more specifically the protection of educational facilities.

At the AU Commission level, the work on safe schools requires the close collaboration of the HRST and PSD. The HRST Commissioner may also speak on the AU Continental Strategy on Education in Africa (2016-2025) and on mechanisms to integrate the safe schools agenda in the AU policy space. PSD as well may discuss further on how the protection of educational facilities can be ensured in conflict settings.

African member states that have endorsed the SSD and which have started implementation may also make intervention and share their practices. Other than African countries representatives of Norway and Argentina may also make statements as co-leads of the initiative and to also present an overview of the global endeavors.

Attacks on schools constitute one of the six grave violations against children in conflict situation, which the UNSC has recognized. The inclusion of children’s protection in peace processes as well as other various peace and security efforts remains central in order to address the effects of conflict on children. A UNSC presidential statement on Children and Armed Conflicts released on 12 February 2020 called for the integration of child protection provisions into peace into peace negotiations, ceasefire and peace agreements, and in provisions for ceasefire monitoring, as well as the centrality of ensuring that children’s views and experiences are captured.

The expected outcome is a press statement. The Council, beyond calling on member states to endorse the SSD, it may urge governments to take practical measures towards the protection of educational facilities. The PSC may further emphasis that children’s access to education is their fundamental right and governments have the obligation to keep students and schools safe. The PSC may underline that education is also an enabler for countries to recover from conflicts and crisis as well as the basis for the continent’s socio-economic development.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - Open Session on Children in situations of Armed Conflicts in Africa

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 15 April, 2019

Tomorrow (16 April) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will have an open session on children affected by armed conflict in Africa.

During this session, it is expected that Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil, AUC Commissioner of Social Affairs, Benyam Dawit Mezumr member of the African Committee of Experts on the Right and Welfare of the Child and Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict, will brief the PSC. Assefa Bequele founder of the African Child Policy Forum, UNICEF and Save the Children representatives are also expected to make a statement. The PSC Chair of the month, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, of Nigeria, who is the Chair of the PSC for April, will make opening remarks.

The 21st Ordinary Executive Council Session held in Addis Ababa in June 2012, adopted Decision EX.CL/Dec.712 (XXI) in which it requested the PSC to take into consideration the rights of the child in its agenda and cooperate actively with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC). Following this decision, the first PSC open session exclusively focusing on children affected by armed conflicts was held in May 2014 at the 434th meeting. Since then, efforts were made by the PSC and ACERWC in institutionalizing the session on the topic by convening regular PSC open sessions.

According to the 2016 ACERWC ‘Continental Study on the Impact of Conflict and Crises on Children in Africa’ states that conflict in the continent accounts for a 50 per cent increase in infant deaths and a 15 per cent increase in under nutrition. Children are twenty-four times more exposed to death in armed conflict due to illness and injury than in peacetime.

Tomorrow’s session is taking place within the context of the AU theme for 2019, ‘the Year of Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Returnees: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa’ and it also makes linkages to the Silencing the Guns by 2020. The session is expected to take stock of previous PSC decisions and AU’s response to protecting children affected by armed conflicts. There have been quite a significant number of PSC outcome documents since 2010 on the impact of armed conflict on children. However there has not been systematic follow up mechanism on items that require implementation and regular review. The session may address the lack or limited implementation of standards and policies and the absence of a robust oversight and coordination capacity through this stock taking exercise on the protection of children in situations of armed conflicts.

One of the major PSC decisions that is yet to be implemented is the appointment of a special envoy on children to draw more attention and action on issues of child rights, education and protection, particularly in the context of conflict. This decision has been a standing item in the PSC outcome documents since 2014 and in the subsequent PSC sessions dedicated to children.

The lack of implementation of this decision and others is not completely surprising. It in part has to do with the lack of clear strategy that guides and informs decisions such as the appointment of a special envoy on children. Additionally, this lack of implementation also reflects the lack of due consideration at the time of making decision to the institutional, legal and resource implications of decisions particularly those involving the establishment of new mechanisms. There is thus a need for the PSC to have a study that addresses these issues including vis-a-vis the mandate of the AU Special Envoy on Women and Peace and Security and the role of the Children’s Committee, which itself has a dedicated rapporteur on the theme of children in armed conflicts.

Indeed, the issue of the impact of conflict on children is also addressed within the framework of the one of the standing themes of the PSC on women peace and security in Africa. The 757th session especially urged for an extraordinary AU summit dedicated to the plight of women and children to mobilize political support and recourses to respond to the needs of women and children. Although this decision did not fully materialize, the 2019 AU theme on humanitarian focus offers an opportunity to highlight the vulnerability of children in conflict and humanitarian situations.

Some of the recent PSC sessions on children have increasingly focused on the impact of conflict on children’s access to education. In this context the 706th and 597th PSC sessions held in May 2016 and July 2017 respectively shed light primarily on attacks on schools and on out-of-school children due to protracted conflicts and violence. The military use of schools and presence of troops and weapons inside schools have been highlighted. The 2016 session has particularly indicated that more than 12 million children are denied of education due to attacks on school and violence. Hence the PSC called on member states to endorse the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflicts, also commonly known as the “Safe Schools Guidelines”. Moreover at its 706th session the PSC has called for the establishment of a comprehensive child protection architecture within the AUC to monitor and track the effective implementation of various instruments adopted at continental and international level.

Beyond its aim to take the issues affecting education of children in situations of armed conflict, this session is expected to reflect broadly on the impact of conflicts on children including killing and maiming, abductions, sexual abuse, recruitment of children as armed combatants, attacks on education and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access. The launch of the recent ACERWC report on children on the move can further generate momentum in underlining the particular needs of children in armed conflicts. Elfadil in her briefing is expected to highlight key issues raised in the report. The report elaborates on the drivers of forced displacement and states that ‘no other continent has witnessed armed conflicts that have adverse effects on children like the African continent’. The report further asserts that children constitute 53% of the total 5.4 million refugees in the continent.

The PSC is expected to make reference and follow up on commitments made during the previous sessions. Particularly the PSC may reiterate the primary responsibility of governments to ensure that children are protected and that their rights and welfare are respected by particularly ratifying and implementing all the relevant legal instruments. Significant children specific PSC decisions are related to ratification, domestication and enhancing implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other international child protection, rights and welfare instruments.

The expected outcome is a press statement.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - Ending Child Marriage

Children affected by Armed Conflicts

Date | 13 August, 2018

Tomorrow (14 August), the Peace and Security Council is scheduled to hold an open session under the theme ‘Ending child marriage in Africa through African peace efforts’. Apart from the statement that the Chair of the month, Ambassador of Zambia (whose President is the African Union (AU) Champion for ending child marriage), the PSC is expected to receive a statement from the AU Department for Social Affairs. The AU Special Rapporteur on Ending Child Marriages, Madame Marie-Christine Boucoum, is expected to deliver a briefing. Others expected to intervene include representatives of UNICEF, Save the Children and Plan International. This theme was first introduced into the agenda of the PSC in June 2017 when Zambia was the chair of the month. As a follow up to the session, the PSC issued a press statement, which noted the request of participants to dedicate an annual open session on ‘Ending child marriage’. Tomorrow’s session is accordingly initiated as a follow up to that request.

The briefing and statements are expected to review the scourge of child marriage in Africa including its prevalence. Other issues expected to be addressed in the briefing and statements include the impact of child marriage and the applicable legal and policy instruments as well as the ongoing efforts including the AU campaign for ending child marriage that was initiated in 2014.

In terms of applicable norms, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of 1990 (African Children’s Charter) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa of 2005 (Maputo Protocol) prohibit marriage below the age 18 years. In line with the overall purposes of the Maputo Protocol and the African Children’s Charter, States Parties to either or both treaties are required to take legislative, institutional and other measures to give effect to this prohibition.

With respect to the implementation of these legal requirements, it is expected to call on states that are not party to these instruments to ratify both the Maputo Protocol and the African Children Charter. Additionally, the session could also highlight the importance of adopting the various institutional, policy, advocacy and socio-economic measures that have been outlined in the Joint General Comment of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child adopted in 2017.

By any standard of measurement, this is one of the themes that is least connected to the core mandate of the PSC. This was particularly apparent during the first session of the PSC on this theme held last year. From the perspective of devoting the resources of the PSC to its core mandate, it is recognized that the theme needs to fit into the focus of the PSC on peace and security. Accordingly, unlike last year, this year’s agenda makes an attempt to establish some link between child marriage and conflicts.

The background note for the session indicates that conflict and situations of humanitarian crisis create greater risks of child marriage, although no statistics is given. Various reports on the conflicts involving the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Boko Haram indicated that abduction of children, one of the serious violations and crimes, often lead to forced marriage of girls and their sexual servitude. The concept note also identifies what it calls three of ‘the six grave violations of children’s rights in armed conflicts that are directly linked to child marriage’. The first of these involves attacks against schools, a phenomenon that has been particularly common in the conflict involving Boko Haram. It is to be recalled that Boko Haram abducted the Chibok girls from their schools, with some of them forced into marriage with or otherwise impregnated by Boko Haram members. The second is abduction of children, a violation for which the LRA achieved particular notoriety. Finally and third is the direct killing or maiming of children by armed groups to instill fear in the community. As noted in the concept note, such attacks induce parents to submit their kids into marriage for avoiding their killing or maiming.

As outlined in the concept note, the objectives of the session include, among others, to:

a) enable the PSC to recognize and prioritize child marriage as a critical issue in times of crisis and to deploy requisite resources to respond to and prevent such challenges;

b) to enable the PSC better identify risks and needs of girls in conflict situations, and mainstream risk reduction strategies into the AU mission cycle; and

c) Integrate child marriage prevention and support to married girls across AU Peace Support Missions and member states interventions.

The foregoing clearly registers marked improvement from the previous year. Yet, it remains unclear if the best way of addressing the links between conflict and child marriage is through a theme that is specific to child marriage. If the three violations identified in the concept note as being linked to child marriage show anything, it is the fact that a narrow focus on child marriage is inadequate. Indeed, the issues raised would perhaps be best pursued as a sub theme of a broader agenda on the protection of children in conflict situations.

Additionally, beyond what has been outlined in the concept note of the session, a more effective engagement by the PSC can be realized if there is data that particularly shows the prevalence rate and patterns of manifestations of child marriage in conflict or situations of humanitarian crisis. This should cover among other things conditions of internal displacement and refugees, where the pressure for and vulnerability to child marriage is also very high. Such an approach allows the elaboration of targeted intervention for addressing the exposure of communities vulnerable to the challenge of child marriage in conflict or situations of humanitarian crisis.

The expected outcome of the session is a press statement. The statement is expected to call the PSC to institutionalize the ending child marriage in conflict and humanitarian settings, as a standing agenda item in the PSC. The concept note also anticipates as one of the outcome of the session the inclusion of periodic reporting by Zambian President Edgar Lungu, as AU Champion on Ending Child Marriage, and the Special Rapporteur on Children Affected by Armed Conflict, at the AU Heads of States Summit and to the Peace and Security Council, respectively, on the implementation of state responsibility to end child marriage in conflict and humanitarian settings