Children and armed conflict: a priority for Belgium

During its two-year membership (2019-2020) of the UN Security Council, Belgium attaches great importance to ‘children and armed conflict'. The theme also occupies a central position during the Belgian presidency of the Security Council (February 2020).

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Children stand in war zone while helicopters fly over their town

© Shutterstock

Our children are our future. It is therefore very important that we cherish and protect them. Yet more than 420 million children - 1 in 5 worldwide - experience the negative impact of armed conflict today, causing stress and trauma that can result in chronic diseases, depression and all kinds of mental problems that could extend well into adulthood.

Belgium’s partner countries

Belgium therefore considers it a priority to protect children during armed conflicts. Our country has been committed for years to keep this theme high on the international agenda. To this end, it grants financial assistance to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). This commitment serves, among other things, to raise awareness among the Belgian and international public opinion about the grave violations of children's rights that are taking place in a number of partner countries of the Belgian Development Cooperation, such as Mali, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than child soldiers

"Children and armed conflict" is not limited to child soldiers. The United Nations recognises six serious human rights violations with regard to children in conflict situations: recruitment of children as soldiers, killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, attacks against schools or hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.

For a peaceful country such as Belgium, the issue of children in conflict situations may not seem of direct concern. The truth could not be more different. For example, several dozens of Belgian children have been displaced in Syria. The reintegration of these returning children will represent a major challenge for our country.

Belgium in the Security Council

During its two-year membership of the UN Security Council, Belgium intends to pay special attention to this theme. As the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, our country has managed to reach a consensus within the Security Council on the extremely complicated situations in Syria and Myanmar. In December 2019, Belgium organised a site visit of the Security Council to Mali to promote the protection of children.

Belgium also wants the protection of children to receive systematic attention in UN peacekeeping operations and in the targeted use of UN sanctions. Another significant focus is the reintegration of young people whose rights have been violated during armed conflicts, as this reintegration contributes to social stability and peace in the future. Belgium places particular emphasis on care adapted to the specific needs of girls.  

In February 2020, Belgium holds the presidency of the Security Council for a month. Once again, the theme of "children and armed conflict" is on the agenda. Practical guidelines are being discussed for the protection of children during peace negotiations, specifically intended for peace negotiators.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited the photo exhibition 'Rebel lives' in New York. The exhibition tells the universal story of children and armed conflict through archival photographs of the Lord's Resistance Army, an Ugandan rebel movement that is notorious for recruiting child soldiers. The exhibition was organised by Fotomuseum Antwerp, with the support of the FPS Foreign Affairs.