In the margins of the United Nations Ministerial Week in New York, Belgium organized a high-level event on the reintegration of child soldiers together with Virginia Gamba, UN special envoy for children in armed conflicts. The Minister moderated the event and Queen Mathilde spoke in her capacity as UN Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Tens of thousands boys and girls are still recruited today in armed conflicts. They are not only used in combat, but are often also abused by those who recruit them. Many among them, especially girls, fall victim to sexual abuse.
These child soldiers, often not even 10 years old, are extremely vulnerable and fragile. Their rehabilitation and reintegration takes time. Long term reintegration programs are key to provide them with the opportunity to pick up their lives again and to restore sustainable peace in their communities, often devastated by violence. UNICEF reports however that over the past five years, a quarter of the 55.000 boys and girls who were globally disassociated from armed groups, couldn’t participate in such reintegration programs.
The reintegration of child solders is one of the priorities of Belgium’s foreign policy. Our country, who has been confronted with the return of children from jihadists who fought in Syria and Iraq, plays a leading role on this issue and wants to keep it on the international agenda. Belgium is also an important contributor to UNICEF’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism which collects reliable information on serious violations of children’s rights in situations of conflict.