UNSC Formula Arria Meeting: Addressing the Challenges of Children Without Parental Care in Conflict Situations.
Briefing by ICRC protection officer Christian Cardon
Mr. Chairman, thank you for drawing attention to this matter and for inviting the ICRC to make a presentation today. I will first highlight some of the main challenges we see, focusing on the specific situations of the most vulnerable children. Then I’ll provide recommendations that can hopefully help alleviate some of the challenges and potentially stem some harm to these children.
Let me start with a quick word about the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICRC. For almost 160 years, the ICRC has focused on reuniting families and preventing separation.
Today, around the world, we facilitate tens of thousands of phone calls between family members separated by war, armed violence or migration. We work with thousands of children, many of whom are stranded in war zones or have lost contact with their families or caregivers.
In such cases, the ICRC works with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and many other partners to try to establish the missing persons fate or place of residence, including for missing children or their missing relatives. We are working to restore family contacts and meet the needs of children and their families. For example, we go to the last known location of the missing person, work with community leaders, or use means such as posters, online searches or radio messages.
Of course, you will understand that from this work, we know that the scale of the problem is great and that obviously the challenges are very complex.
Children separated from their parents or other family members are more likely to be exposed to abuse, exploitation, violence and, in some cases, recruitment by armed forces or armed groups. They face difficulties in accessing essential and life-saving services such as health care and education.
Children often end up in detention, for example, because of their actual or perceived association with an armed group, or because they have not been able to access appropriate forms of juvenile justice, such as alternatives to prosecution and to detention. These children may also face discrimination, ostracism and stigma.
Migrant children (who include refugees) are also obviously a group of concern, especially when they are separated from their families. Some may be separated during their journey, or upon arrival, some are still sent unaccompanied by their parents, for example, to escape recruitment into armed groups.
Sometimes children are placed in migrant detention or risk being returned in unsafe conditions where they will have an increased likelihood of being exposed to violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, without necessarily having access to protection mechanisms. .
Thousands of children are also stranded in protracted displacement situations, where left unaccompanied they may be lost and without access to a education, nutrition and health care.
This is only a brief, but sobering, key challenges children may face. And yes, there are rules that could help prevent the protection issues we are discussing today regarding unaccompanied or separated children.
As we know, international humanitarian law contains a number of obligations which aim to ensure that, when a child is effectively separated from his family in armed conflict, the child’s needs are met. These obligations are also aimed at reestablishing contact and ultimately reuniting family members whenever possible. Better compliance with these rules could help stem the harm done to children.
The ICRC therefore recommends the following to States. There are four recommendations:
First of all, respect the family as much as possible – and try to avoid separation in the first place, as my colleague from UNICEF just said. This requires, as far as possible, the maintenance of family unity, contact between family members and the provision of information on the fate of family members. All possible measures should be taken to prevent family separation, including for immigration reasons.
In short, families should be able to stay together.
Second recommendation, make every effort to rapidly identify unaccompanied children in situations of armed conflict, internal displacement or migration. Identification helps ensure that their cases are followed up and that their needs are met in a timely manner. Knowing their whereabouts and a response for each child prevents recruitment, prevents children from resorting to harmful coping strategies to meet their basic needs, or from being exposed to exploitation and abuse. abuse.
In the specific case of missing migrants, including unaccompanied children, the ICRC calls on the authorities to set up local, national and transnational mechanisms to cooperate and exchange information in the search for these children.
Third recommendation, if children are separated from their families, prioritize and meet their specific needs, and ensure family reunification without delay, when possible and in the best interests of the child.
Whenever families are separated, the ICRC respectfully calls on the authorities to ensure that family contacts are reestablished and maintained by all possible means – through visits, video calls, phone calls, etc. – and with regard to COVID-19[female[feminine protective measures in progress.
The term âfamilyâ is now to be interpreted broadly to include biological, adoptive or foster parents, or, where appropriate, members of the extended family or community as prescribed by local custom.
Fourth and finally, detention must be a last resort for children. When a child is detained, States should systematically ensure that the parents or other family member are informed of their whereabouts and should do their utmost to restore family links.
All children have the right to their rights and protections as children, without distinction based on age, sex, religion or perceived association with an armed group.
In this area, the ICRC aims to ensure that the conditions in which children are detained and the treatment they receive in detention respect their specific needs and meet internationally recognized juvenile justice standards. If necessary, the ICRC will offer to re-establish contact between a detained child and his family, which can be, as you know, a vital lifeline and offer greater protection to the child. Once the child’s whereabouts are known, the family can bring essential items, such as food, medicine or clothing, or begin work for their release. Family contact also provides children with vital emotional, psychological and sometimes economic support.
On this point, I will close by emphasizing that families are an invaluable lifeline in conflict situations. For children, family support is essential to ensure access to food, health care, education and their mental well-being. The family can be the best protection against the vulnerabilities of a life affected by conflict.
We must do all we can to identify unaccompanied or separated children and reunite them with their loved ones so that they can benefit from this support and protection. In the absence of the family, we must ensure that the child receives the support he needs.
Every child, no matter what their situation – whether born into conflict, sent alone to find safety or better opportunities, left behind after losing loved ones – every child deserves a chance. It’s up to us to help them get that chance.