Queen Mathilde opened the international conference "Children and Armed Conflicts" at the Egmont Palace in Brussels with a speech in English.
with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller.
Every child deserves a safe childhood.
This thought constantly crossed my mind when I visited the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees, in the North of Jordan, a few months ago.
It is just over twenty years since my fellow SDG Advocate, Graça Machel, presented her groundbreaking report on the impact of armed conflict on children. Since then, the international community has become increasingly aware of the scope and seriousness of the problem. (...)
(...) My own country, Belgium, is a longstanding partner and supporter of the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. As a member of the so-called Group of Friends, Belgium actively works to promote this issue in New York and co-chairs the Group in Geneva. Within NATO, too, Belgium plays a leading role. Active participation in these organisations keeps the issue on the agenda of the international community.
So we have made progress, Ladies and Gentlemen.
But not enough. (...)
Only this week we heard that a record number of people were killed or injured in Afghanistan last year. One third of them were children.
So we must never become complacent. Nor must we become immune to the images that confront us daily in the media or in the field. We have the legal and moral tools to protect children from suffering and injustice. We must be even more dynamic in applying them. (...)
(...)Young and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable. Subjected, all too often, to sexual violence, early pregnancy and forced marriage, they bear the scars forever.
Children are not just caught up in conflict, they are often cynically and ruthlessly targeted. Some are forced into service as child soldiers, with no other option than to kill. Their childhoods come to a brutal and early end, their innocence and often their futures stolen from them. Their lives defined by violence and horror, these children are usually traumatized and dysfunctional by the time the conflict ends.(...)
As an Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals and as the Honorary President of UNICEF Belgium, I personally am determined to continue my efforts to improve the plight of children affected by armed conflict.
(...) Let us all do our utmost.
I am confident we can succeed.
I thank you.
With Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.