Congratulations to Sweden on their presidency, and also thank you to the Russian delegation for their leadership in June.
I want to thank the Prime Minister of Sweden for convening this very important debate, and thank you Ms. Fore and Ms. Gamba for you leadership. Yenny, your story is inspiring, and now welcome to the club of mothers, because you’ll never know again what it’s like not to worry. But, you were the right voice at the right time to help us with this issue, so thank you.
It has been more than two decades since the Security Council established the mandate for Children and Armed Conflict. In that time, one generation has grown up and an entirely new generation has come into this world.
More than 60 percent of people in conflict-affected countries are under the age of 25. This means that, in these places, there is an entire generation of kids who have lived in conflict their entire lives. These are the same kids who will someday be in charge of their countries. Some of them will be the same people making future decisions about peace and security. So we need to care about how this next generation is growing up.
Last fall, I visited with families displaced by violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we know the armed forces are continuing to coordinate with groups that recruit child soldiers and sexually exploit boys and girls.
Knowing this, I sat down and talked to Congolese women to hear about their lives. I looked into their eyes, I held their hands, and I met their children. Sadly, their stories were all the same. They were overwhelmed, heartbroken, and suffering.
I met one woman, Angelique, who is a mother of seven children. She was raped on two different occasions during violent attacks, and because she had trouble coping with the trauma, her husband left her to take care of her children alone.
As a mother myself, I wanted to understand how she copes and what she tells her children in the midst of so much pain. Her answer has haunted me since. She tells her children to stay with her in the camp and suffer together as a family.
She tells her sons not to leave the camp, because they would be abducted and forced into fighting. She tells her daughters not to leave the camp because they would be raped. Her children have no home, no school, no choices, and no hope for the future.
When I asked Angelique and other women in the DRC and South Sudan what they wanted most, their answer surprised me. It wasn’t better living conditions, more food, or material things. It was for their children to be able to go to school, to get an education. They didn’t want their kids to be bored, to become vulnerable to violence, and to get swept up into the endless cycle of conflict. They wanted their kids to be in school and have the opportunity to live a better life.
It is imperative that we listen to these mothers. Educating children who have fled from violence is an investment in the future stability of a country. If we fail, these children will grow up to be uneducated, unskilled, and resentful. They will be prime targets for recruitment by extremists and armed groups, and the cycle will continue.
If we don’t do something about the way these kids are being educated in refugee and IDP camps, we might be dealing with them as adults on the battlefield. Education is both a way to recover from conflict and prevent it in the future.
The United States is a proud leader in providing resources for education, workforce training, and psychosocial support to more than 50.2 million children and youth in 51 countries, including 11.8 million children in crisis and conflict environments.
In Mali, we are working with the government to enroll more than 5,100 children and youth in an accelerated education program. We are partnering with local NGOs to provide books, desks, and learning supplies and increase parental involvement in their children’s education.
In Jordan, we are helping the government cope with the mass influx of Syrian refugees. The United States has committed $230 million to build 2,000 new classrooms and renovate 250 schools.
And the United States isn’t working alone. Other countries have joined us in supporting new and innovative mechanisms, like Education Cannot Wait. Managed by UNICEF, this is the first global fund dedicated to education in humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises.
But putting children behind a desk in a classroom only goes so far. A child cannot be expected to focus and learn after they have experienced so much pain and violence.
Children who have escaped or were released by armed groups in places like South Sudan and DRC live with even deeper wounds from the unspeakable acts they were forced to do.
The Security Council must hold governments accountable for how they treat children both during and after active conflicts. They cannot neglect the unseen damage done to children’s hearts and minds. To create a sustainable peace, stabilization plans must prioritize basic education and psychosocial support for all victims – both boys and girls, including children born from sexual violence.
Childhood is short. Time is not on the side of child victims in conflict. The United States welcomes this discussion. We support the adoption of the resolution. And we urge our colleagues to do more to save new generations from being lost to the pain and trauma of armed conflict. Living through violence and conflict should not determine a child’s future. Every child deserves the opportunity to flourish.