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

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 13, 2023


Thank you, Madam President. And I want to thank very much Special Representative Gamba, Special Representative Dr. M’jid, and Ms. Divina for their thoughtful and useful briefings today.  And thank you, Madam President, for hosting this important briefing; we look forward to Malta’s tenure as chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

The latest report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict provided a sobering snapshot of how conflict continues to impact children. It, I’m sure for all of us, was heartbreaking to read of the nearly 24,000 verified violations in the report. The United States remains firmly committed to the CAAC agenda item and is keen to see it integrated into all the work of the UN Security Council.

When we take preventative steps to protect children, we are protecting and safeguarding our collective future. To prevent future violations and abuses against children, we must make clear to those who commit these acts that they will be held accountable.

Madam President, the Russian delegation attempted to spin its war in Ukraine as somehow a positive for the children of Ukraine. Let me be clear: In Ukraine, Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion is having a devastating impact on children. We commend the Secretary-General for including Ukraine as a “country of concern” in his recent report, which highlights the ongoing, unconscionable violations and abuses by Russia against Ukrainian children.

During his recent visit to Ukraine, the High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Grandi highlighted a tragic aspect of Russia’s war – the impact on children, and namely the issuance of Russian Federation passports to unaccompanied children from Ukraine during wartime.

It has been widely reported that Russia is engaged in extensive relocation of Ukraine’s children within Russia-controlled and Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as the transfer of children to Russia itself, and, in some cases, the deportation of children from Ukraine for the purpose of Russification and adoption by or placement with families in Russia.

Another indispensable tool in preventing violations is the expertise provided by the UN Country Task Forces’ on Monitoring and Reporting and other UN missions’ Child Protection Specialists around the world. Without their tireless efforts and vital work, countless more children would suffer. And it is our responsibility as Member States to help ensure adequate resources and dedicated Child Protection Personnel are deployed where needed in UN Peace Operations, Special Political missions, and Country Teams to deliver on their mandates. When we leave these positions vacant or understaffed, we leave children at risk.

Children, especially girls, have been subjected to alarming rates of gender-based violence. We are especially distressed by the 41 percent increase worldwide in the abduction of girls, who are then commonly subjected to gender-based violence such as forced marriages, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

We are encouraged by the positive outcome of engagement with parties to conflict, which did result in the release of 12,214 children from armed groups and armed forces. Still, more should be done to promote justice and accountability for these child survivors and to urgently address the long-term impacts to their mental and physical health.

Children in conflict zones face acute protection challenges. In Ethiopia, thousands of children have been forced from their homes, separated from their families, and subjected to sexual violence.

We are encouraged by the cessation of hostilities agreement in northern Ethiopia and hope the government and the Tigrayan authorities build on this momentum. We also underscore any lasting solution to the conflict must involve comprehensive solutions, including transitional justice for victims and survivors, and accountability for those responsible for atrocities.

In Afghanistan, patterns of child, early, and forced marriage and recruitment have been crippling to the physical and emotional well-being of children and youth. Girls have been particularly impacted as there have been instances amounting to early and unsafe pregnancies. Survivors of gender-based violence and demobilized child soldiers, including those who are trafficking- survivors, need access to shelter and long-term care.

The United States condemns and calls on the Taliban to eliminate the harmful practice of bacha bazi and expand protection and rehabilitative services for affected children. The United States also condemns the December 24 edict barring women from working for NGOs, which will disproportionately harm women and children as recipients of humanitarian assistance, to include medical services.

In conclusion, Madam President, it is important, as I think we all agree, that the Council speak in one voice for increased compliance with international humanitarian law, respect for human rights, and strengthened accountability for all violations and abuses against children. This Council can – and should – do more to protect children worldwide, and we can start by strengthening existing accountability mechanisms and dedicating more resources to UN child protection specialists.

Thank you.