Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 10, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. And we very much thank Niger’s efforts to focus today’s discussion on such an important topic. Thank you as well to SRSG Gamba, Executive Director Fore, Marika, and Rimana for your insightful and compelling remarks. And Hadiza, even though we weren’t able to hear you today, we know that you have so much to offer to the conversation and appreciate your work.

The United States remains fully committed to supporting the UN’s critical work to address the effects of conflict on children. There is no issue more important than those affecting the next generations of leaders and citizens in the world. It is only when we support every child in reaching their fullest potential that we will create a safer and more secure world.

Our support also extends to the protection of families, teachers, and schools whenever possible so that children can retain safe and equitable access to quality education.

As Rimana highlighted earlier, schools should provide a safe space free from the threat of violence. When protected, schools also serve as a hub for other life-saving and life-sustaining services. Furthermore, safe access to education is critical to breaking the cycles of poverty and social grievance that underpin countries’ vulnerability to violent extremism and future conflict. Therefore, we cannot approach the pursuit of peace and international security without considering the consequences of failures to uphold the laws that protect children and schools.

The irony, of course, is that terrorists often deliberately target or use schools because schools are critical to building resilient communities and also represent government institutions. This lack of respect for the civilian character of schools can place them at heightened risk of attack. In some cases, malign actors use education to perpetuate prejudice, intolerance, and distorted views of history or of others in their community. Meanwhile, armed groups also target schools and routes to schools to abduct children and youth, often for the purpose of recruiting them as soldiers or into forced marriage, sexual slavery, or other horrific activities.

In this regard, I do want to highlight that women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual violence and early and forced marriage amid conflict, and tend to be deliberately targeted by groups that oppose gender equity in education. The threat of rape, sexual assault, and abduction on their way to school, or because they want to seek an education severely constrains women’s and girls’ mobility and, along with other harmful gender norms, often compels them to stay home.

We note the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict has made progress on numerous conclusions documents, including those recently finalized on Iraq, Colombia, and Somalia. We very much appreciate Belgium’s work on this area. This important work goes on as we continue to discuss Sudan. We also appreciate Special Representative Gamba’s ongoing commitment to preparing the reports including important details on abuses and violations against children. As we know, however, our work is far from over.

In the Central Sahel, for example, attacks on children continue to increase; close to 5 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. The surge of violence across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is having a devastating impact on children’s survival, education, protection, and development. Hundreds of children, as we’ve heard even this morning, in the region have been killed, maimed, or forcibly separated from their families, while thousands of school closures have affected almost 650,000 children. The violence prompting these closures must stop immediately, its perpetrators must be brought to justice, and children’s access to education must be restored.

These tragedies in the Sahel illuminate the fact that armed conflict impacts children in ways beyond affecting their immediate safety. These children require holistic interventions that support their ability to contribute to peaceful societies, including the provision of equal access to education, age-appropriate vocational training, and job opportunities for both boys and girls. They also need familiar, safe, and nurturing routines – particularly within families and in supportive school environments – to heal, build resilience, and cope with stress and trauma.

That is why the U.S. government prioritizes not only life-saving child protection programming but efforts that support children’s longer-term recovery, including through education. To demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to the children, families, and communities of the Sahel in this regard, we recently provided $2.3 million to extend Education Cannot Wait’s Burkina Faso First Emergency Response program to sustain education services in conflict-affected communities.

We will continue to invest in preventative, responsive, and gender-sensitive programming to protect children from violence, including in their schools. The Trump Administration remains as committed as ever to empowering children by promoting their access to essential social services, including education, and increasing their participation in processes that affect their lives and shape their future.

Thank you, Mr. President.