Speech/statement | Date: 05/06/2023 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister Anniken Huitfeldt’s opening speech at the conference on protecting children in armed conflict. Norway is hosting the conference that takes place in Oslo, Norway.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear colleagues and friends,
Welcome to Oslo!
“Every war is a war against children,”
Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children said in 1919.
Her words are even more true today - as wars now are fought in cities rather than on the battlefields of the First World War.
As we meet today, the number of countries experiencing violent conflict is the highest it has been in the last 30 years.
A staggering 1 in 6 of the world's children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.
Children do not instigate wars.
Yet, as all present today are painfully aware of, they are often suffering most from its consequences. Consequences that cannot be captured by figures or statistics.
Conflict affects the lives and future of children in dramatic ways. Its impact spans generations. It damages prospects for conflict-resolution, peace, reconciliation, and sustainable development.
During this conference, we will hear the voices of children urging us to end wars and let kids be kids.
We must come together to heed their call.
The situation is far from hopeless.
One indication is today’s strong and dedicated participation, including by countries affected by conflict.
I thank you for being willing to share your experience and expertise.
We already have the tools to protect children.
Many countries and organisations can showcase heartening examples of progress.
We have seen it in Colombia: there, children released from armed groups are being reintegrated to the society. Instead of being imprisoned.
And we have seen it in Nigeria: last Autumn, a handover protocol to protect children encountered during military operations was signed with UNICEF.
We will hear many more examples and best practices during this conference.
My point is that we all know what it takes to achieve further progress:
- political will
- practical measures
- and funding.
International organisations, civil society and states all have a role to play.
Let us use this conference to strengthen these partnerships.
As always: Prevention is better than cure.
The UN Secretary-General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’ sets a good path forward.
The nationwide truce by all parties to the conflict in Yemen last year clearly shows how ending armed conflicts is the most effective way to protect children.
The truce instantly led to positive gains for children and a significant reduction in the numbers of children that were being killed or injured.
As a child from Taiz stated:
“We never felt safe. However, during the truce, we felt safe going out and playing as well as going to school and studying. We knew nothing would happen because there is a truce.”
While we strive for peace, we must do more to protect children affected by conflict as it rages.
States and parties to conflict must respect international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights. Also when countering terrorism.
- Protection of children must be a priority in the planning and conduct of military operations.
- We cannot accept a climate of impunity for those committing crimes against children. Those who violate the law must be brought to justice.
- Children that have been recruited and used in armed conflict must be treated as victims in accordance with international law.
- Humanitarian actors must prioritise children in their responses. And donors must step up and fund a sustainable response for children.
We know that access to safe, quality and conflict sensitive education can help protect children and youth from death and exploitation.
We therefore call on all states:
- to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and UN Security Council Resolution 2601
- to realize all children’s right to education
- and to re-double their efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children
I urge all of you to make substantial commitments during this conference.
Norway has several commitments, among them:
- A financial pledge of at least one billion NOK over three years.
We will seek and consolidate multi-year partnerships.
- The Political Declaration on the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated areas is an important milestone. Norway will host the first follow-up conference in 2024.
- We will also work to make the protection of the displaced a priority for the global refugee forum in December. This includes issues of critical importance to children, like birth registration, safe access to education and protection from sexual and gender-based violence.
It is only through concrete action that can we ensure better protection of children in armed conflict.
That is why we are gathered in Oslo.
I am delighted – and grateful – to see so many colleagues from conflict-affected countries here today.
I cannot wait to see what we can achieve together.