Pity the Children: Syria and the protection of children in armed conflict

Recognising the changing nature of war and their effects on the most vulnerable, children, in 1993, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly initiated the Machel study to understand the impact of armed conflict on children. Since then, the protection of children has become an integral component of the UN Security Council’s agenda on international peace and security. In 2005, Security Council Resolution 1612 established a monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM).

This instrument was designed to collect, verify and provide timely, objective, accurate, and reliable information on the gravest violations of children’s rights violations in situations of armed conflict. These are: killing and maiming of children; recruiting or using child soldiers; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence against children; abduction of children, and denial of humanitarian access for children. Implemented by a UN-led Task Force and non-governmental organisations, this mechanism provides data to inform the actions of the UN Security Council, other UN agencies and country-specific task forces charged with engaging with the parties in conflict and in particular, the government of a country experiencing armed conflict.

The MRM provides a basis for holding parties to armed conflict accountable, in theory deterring the commission of these grave violations. At the same time, the mechanism provides an alternative diplomatic avenue for the UN to enter into dialogue with conflict parties.

Syria’s children are at the frontline and in need of protection. Save the Children recently published a report on the systematic abuse of children in the conflict. In June, Human Rights Watch reported on the sexual assault of children in this conflict. A Earlier still, in August 2011, Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict Coomaraswamy stated that grave violations of children’s human rights were being perpetrated in Syria, including attacks on schools and hospitals and the killing and maiming of children. In early 2012, Reuters reported the recruitment of child soldiers for Syrian rebels. While Coomaraswamy could not verify this allegation, it was clear that grave violations had occurred. The MRM facilitated additional reporting by the Secretary-General in his report on conflict-related sexual violence in January 2012.

Since 26 April 2012, the Syrian Arab Republic has been included on the list of countries where MRM is being applied. This reporting has operated alongside on-the-ground activities aimed at protecting children. UNICEF works closely with state and non-state partners to alleviate the plight of children within and without the country. They are re-opening schools, supporting summer school clubs, providing humanitarian assistance in refugee camps and offering recreational activities in an attempt to normalise the lives of the children.

But humanitarian action such as this, and the MRM tool can only deliver limited protection in protracted situations such as the armed conflict in Syria. Indeed, research suggests that the mechanism is effective only in relation to non-state actors and its capacity to change government behaviour is limited indeed. Nevertheless, the application of MRM in cooperation with the national government suggests that there remain pathways for dialogue with the Syrian government. The Security Council is divided on how to end the violence in Syria. While it is not divided on the protection of Syria’s children, more can be done to protect the children.


Naila Maier-Knapp, Human Protection Hub

(picture: Save the Children)

Author: protectiongateway

Human Protection Hub

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