Speech at DIHAD Summit, Dubai

Monday 12 June 2017

It is a privilege to be here today.

Dubai truly is an international humanitarian city.

Not just because of the amazing system you have built here, to get aid fast to those who need it most.

But also because of your leading role in supporting new ideas and new partnerships. This is how we make humanitarian and development work the best it can be, for the people counting on us.

This conference is just one example of such leadership. Bringing together this group of extraordinary humanitarian leaders. It is at forums like this that we can come together to find new ways to tackle the urgent challenges we face.

To my organisation, Save the Children, there is none more urgent than protecting children in armed conflict.

We were founded in the wake of war, almost 100 years ago. By an extraordinary English woman called Eglantyne Jebb, who could not abandon the children of Europe to famine and fear. We have been working to protect children ever since. Including for more than 60 years here in the Middle East. But sadly, our job is far from done.

In the opening of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, it says:

“Mankind owes to the child the best it has to offer”.

However, right now around the world, 15 million children are still living with violent conflict.

That is 15 million children potentially suffering grave violations.

Children killed or maimed. Children made victims of sexual violence. Children abducted or attacked in supposedly safe places like schools or hospitals. Children denied lifesaving humanitarian access. Children recruited as soldiers, and forced into a conflict they did not create.

These children are experiencing the worst that humanity has to offer.

Many do not survive past their fifth birthday. During a crisis, women and children are 14 times more likely to lose their lives than men are. Right now for example, across just four conflict affected countries — South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia — conservative estimates say that 1.4 million children may die this year.

For children who do survive, many suffer physical injuries.

And long after those physical scars have healed, the emotional scars continue to destroy lives.

In Syria these ‘invisible wounds’ are taking a crippling toll on its children as the war moves into its 7th year. Save the Children has just finished the largest ever-study during Syria’s conflict of children’s mental health. The results are deeply troubling.

Of the Syrian people we spoke to:

Almost 90 per cent said children have become more fearful and nervous as the war has continued.

Over 70 per cent talked about children suffering from involuntary urination because they have seen so many terrible things.

Over half said they knew of children who are turning to drugs to cope with stress or children who have lost the ability to speak properly.

Adding to these health problems is the devastating impact on children’s education. Almost everyone we spoke to in Syria, mentioned lack of education as one of the biggest blows of the war.

For the families of Syria, destroyed schools mean destroyed futures.

We owe it to the children of Syria, and all children in armed conflict, to do everything we can to end their suffering.

What does this mean in practice? Let me give you some initial ideas.

We have to start with peace. Children will never be safe if we cannot end the conflicts around them. The UN Secretary-General has declared 2017 ‘a year for peace’. We must rally around that call to action and help him to make it a reality.

In Syria, this means an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire. One that agrees a minimum set of measures to ensure the protection and safety of children. Not targeting schools or hospitals, not recruiting and using children, not using explosive weapons, and allowing full humanitarian access.

We need to live up to the solemn commitments we have made to protect children. This includes the system for holding parties to conflict to account, for grave violations against children. It must be strong and independent. The UN Secretary-General must name all violators, and base this only on the evidence collected. His Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict then needs our support to work with all listed parties, to end these violations.

We should encourage efforts that strengthen the global consensus on protecting children. Support for the Safe Schools Declaration continues to rise. If you are a representative of a government who has not yet signed on, I encourage you to do so. If you are a member of civil society, I encourage you, to encourage your government, to do so. There is a great opportunity at the Safe Schools Conference in Argentina next week. Do not miss it!

We must put our money where our mouth is and commit more resources. More than 50 per cent of those affected by conflict are children, but less than 5 per cent of funding is spent protecting, healing or educating them. This has to change.

To protect children, we need more resources and more expertise. And these must always be ready to go as soon as we need them. We are already playing catch up in the Horn of Africa as well as South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria. We need to act faster, well before a crisis spirals out of control. And get what’s needed straight into the hands of frontline responders and local partners.

To help children heal, we need to do more to address the physical and emotional scars that remain after a conflict ends. One call we are making is for a new global commitment, to support children’s mental health and wellbeing in emergencies. Right now, an entire generation of children is at risk of serious long-term damage, if they do not get proper support.

To educate children, the Education Cannot Wait Fund need our support. Otherwise we will not live up to the promise we made at the UN last year to have children in emergencies back in education within a few months. I applaud Dubai Cares for contributing to this fund and strongly urge others to do so.

Finally, as the ultimate goal of all our efforts, we must achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

This is the only long-term solution to preventing humanitarian crisis and truly ending the suffering of children in armed conflict. To succeed, it requires new thinking and new partnerships. Both of which I hope you come up with during this conference.

Save the Children, and indeed all of the child focused agencies, are absolutely committed to this. And it is my hope that in 2017 we will achieve, together, new breakthrough to really move the needle on meeting the SDGs for children.

But we all have a role to play. And we have to step up now. Inaction has consequences: violence and conflict are a vicious generational cycle.

To break it, we have to transform the experiences, perspectives and prospects of those who are children today and will shape world in the future.

Whether they become our leaders of tomorrow or engaged members of society, it is our responsibility to ensure all children will be able to play their unique role.

A role defined not by the violence and suffering inflicted on them, but by their potential and character alone.

This is what is meant by the “best that mankind has to offer”, and we owe our children nothing less.

Thank you.

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