Home Uncategorized UN hears testimony from former child soldier on brutal reality of war

UN hears testimony from former child soldier on brutal reality of war


Speaking anonymously and through an interpreter, the 16-year-old called on ambassadors to reinforce protection and security in conflict zones to ensure children like him never have to play an active part in the horrors of war.

“When I was born, 16 years ago, there were already armed conflicts in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the child began, recounting the worsening situation and how children have been the greatest victims.

I was forced to join an armed group while I was walking to school.

The child’s testimony highlighted the brutal realities faced by many children in conflict zones.

Harsh realities

“Two months ago, during armed attacks on two of our neighbouring villages, children were targeted for abduction and forced to join armed groups, while others were abducted to hold their families to ransom. This led to the murder of many children whose families do not have the means to pay the ransoms demanded,” the child said, describing how schools and hospitals are attacked and used as military bases.

The child shared personal experiences of being kidnapped and forced into an armed group.

We cried and trembled, begging them to let us go home to our families, but they wouldn’t listen. That’s when they started whipping us and keeping us in the bush. We were heavily guarded, and they had ordered to kill anyone who tried to flee.”

The testimony included vivid descriptions of the hardships endured, such as being made to loot food and rob vehicles, with girls being taken as “wives” by soldiers.

“Life wasn’t rosy, because dry cassava was the main food, and I was also afraid of wild animals in the bush.”

A wide view of the UN Security Council meeting on children and armed conflict.

A wide view of the UN Security Council meeting on children and armed conflict.

Personal plea to ambassadors

After three years camping out, the child managed to escape and was eventually supported by the Congolese Government’s child demobilisation programme. Now back in school, the child is working with the children’s parliament to raise awareness about children’s rights.

“I want to urge the United Nations Security Council to work together to provide assistance to children affected by conflict,” the child stressed.

“This assistance will help protect children, help them gain access to education and healthcare and protect children from violence in environments where their rights are violated.”

Unprecedented violations

The testimony was part of the Security Council’s open debate on children and armed conflict, where the 15-member body reviews the Secretary-General’s annual report alongside in-depth briefings by senior UN officials, civil society and experts.

Covering the period from January to December 2023, the report revealed “extreme levels” of violence against children in armed conflict, with unprecedented numbers of killings and maimings.

Last year, the UN verified an appalling 32,990 grave violations against 22,557 children in 26 conflict zones, the highest annual number in almost a decade, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, told Security Council members.

The highest numbers of grave violations during 2023 were in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.

Violations against children covered under the report include abduction, killing, maiming, recruitment or use in armed forces and groups, attacks on schools or hospitals, rape or other grave sexual violence and the denial of humanitarian access.

Young schoolmates hang out at their severely damaged school in a village in northern Ukraine.

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Young schoolmates hang out at their severely damaged school in a village in northern Ukraine.

Trampling on children’s rights ‘must stop’

Ms. Gamba emphasised that the only way forward is through cooperation, solidarity and the political will to mitigate, stop and ultimately end and prevent violations against children.

Protecting children from conflict is essential to break the cycle of violence, she said, calling for a culture of shared responsibility to safeguard children. Peaceful dispute resolutions are needed which provide protection when peace efforts fall short.

Respect for international law “is the minimum prerequisite for the protection of children”, she stressed.

Despite the solid international consensus that has been reached on these matters, parties to conflict blatantly trample on child rights, with little or no consequences,” she said. “This must stop.”

UN officials echo calls for protection

The Security Council also heard from former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his capacity as Deputy Chair of The Elders, and from Ted Chaiban, Deputy Executive Director of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Mr. Ban stressed that there should be no impunity for those who commit crimes against children anywhere in the world.

Mr. Chaiban called on the Security Council to protect children from harm, promote peace and engage in sustained diplomacy to end and prevent conflicts, adding that humanitarian, peace and development actors stand ready to support.

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