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UN Moves To Protect Kids Caught In War

UN Peacekeeping Missions Leading Bid To Protect Kids Caught In War, Envoy Says

United Nations operations deployed to strife-torn countries are leading the effort to protect the youngest victims of war, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict says.

"There is no sector of the UN where more progress has been made than the peace and security sector of the UN, by which I mean in the Security Council and in peacekeeping operations," Olara Otunnu told the UN News Service on Tuesday.

As evidence, he pointed to the fact that the protection of children is increasingly incorporated into the mandates of peacekeeping operations, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations have prepared a training package on the issue for those deploying to the field.

Above all, the envoy cited the "complete innovation" of stationing designated child protection advisers in the office of the senior official heading the peacekeeping mission to ensure "that the issue of child protection is being taken seriously, is being mainstreamed and has truly become part of the raison d'être of peacekeeping missions."

Asked about media reports regarding abuses by peacekeepers, Mr. Otunnu said child protection officers are mandated to refer any allegations of abuse to the highest authority for action. "That is part of their responsibility," he said. "If there are abuses, then they bring to the attention to the head of mission that this is happening and something must be done about it right away."

The UN has a strict "zero tolerance" policy in place. "We must be very vigilant that any misbehaviour, any abuses and exploitation are dealt with swiftly and without complacency," he said.

The Special Representative was first appointed in 1997, and subsequent resolutions of the Security Council mandated that peacekeeping missions protect children.

"We've come a very long way as far as incorporating and making child protection an important aspect of the work of peacekeepers," Mr. Otunnu said.

At the same time, he called for intensified action to address key questions: "Is enough being done to really focus on the needs of children, whether it is demobilizing them from armed groups, whether it is investing enough to rehabilitate schools, whether it is ensuring that girls who have been exposed to sexual violence are given the attention they deserve?" he asked.

Mr. Otunnu emphasized that good intentions must be backed by funds. "We need to be sure that in terms of resources we are not giving lip service," he said.

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