“Children and armed conflict” among the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0 de Gilbert G. Groud makes the photograph as well as the drawings.
Child Soldier in the Ivory Coast, Gilbert G. Groud, 2007.

Children are often the most vulnerable victims of war and conflict. For many years, protecting and promoting their rights has been a priority for Belgian foreign policy. During Belgium’s current presidency of the Council of the European Union, “children and armed conflict” has been one of the priorities in human rights. Belgium strongly supports the mandate of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and funds UNICEF’s monitoring and reporting mechanism. This mechanism is crucial in accurately documenting the extent and nature of grave violations against children. 

Sadly, thousands of children worldwide are still recruited and used in conflict situations. In 2022, the United Nations (UN) was able to verify over 1,500 cases of children being recruited or used in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. These include girls and boys, some as young as five years old, used for combat, espionage, surveillance missions, or logistical support. Children also continue to be recruited and used by conflict parties in many other countries, such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Yemen, Mali and Syria.

The UN Security Council, in the “Children and Armed Conflict” mandate, defines the recruitment and use of children among six severe violations against children in conflict situations. The other five violations are: killing and maiming children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, child abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of access to humanitarian aid. By 2022, the UN has been able to verify more than 27,000 severe violations against children. This figure may be the tip of the iceberg, and the trend in 2023 is anything but hopeful. 

In the framework of its EU Presidency, Belgium, in cooperation with the office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the European Commission, is organising the photo exhibition “From despair to hope: children beyond armed conflict” at BOZAR in Brussels from March 21 to April 28, 2024. 

This exhibition includes works by internationally renowned photojournalist and humanitarian correspondent Paddy Dowling. It seeks to capture the complexity of children’s lives amid conflict, highlighting both the tragedy of their stories and their strength and belief in a better future. After all, despite the horrors they have endured, children do have a chance to recover from atrocities and become positive forces of change within their communities. The exhibition is free to all.

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