New York, May 12, 2022 – “ Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency and dear colleagues, I would like to express my gratitude to Ambassador de la Fuente and Riviere for arranging today’s meeting. I would like to thank the United States for hosting this briefing during your presidency of the Security Council.
The war in Ukraine is a child rights crisis
It has been more than a month since UNICEF briefed the council on the situation in Ukraine – with each passing day, more Ukrainian children are facing the horrors of this war. In the past month, the United Nations has confirmed that nearly 100 children have been killed, and we believe the actual number is much higher. Other children have been injured and their rights have been seriously violated, and millions more have been displaced. Attacks on schools continue and are being used for military purposes and water and sanitation infrastructure is being damaged. The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is a child rights and protection crisis.
Last month, UNICEF briefed the council following the attack on the Kramatorsk railway station – an attack on families fleeing the violence that desperately disrupted our team’s work on the ground to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance.. We meet again after another horrific attack, this time at a school in Luhansk – another shining example of contempt for civilian life. Today, more and more families are mourning the loss of loved ones.
It is a stark reminder that education is also under attack in Ukraine today. In February, the school year closed when the war broke out. As of last week, at least 15 of the 89 schools in eastern Ukraine – or one in six – supported by UNICEF – have been damaged or destroyed since the war began. Hundreds of schools across populated areas across the country have been hit by heavy artillery shelling, airstrikes and other explosive weapons, while other schools are being used as information centers, shelters, supply centers or for military purposes – impacting long-term children’s return to education.
These attacks must stop. All parties must respect their legal and moral obligations to protect civilian and civilian infrastructure, to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to ensure that the rights of children are upheld.
UN Security Council condemns school attack
In 2021, the council passed Resolution 2601, which condemned attacks on schools and called for all necessary guarantees to uphold the right to education. The Safe School Declaration describes what is needed to strengthen the protection of education in conflict. It takes courage, discipline and political will to turn these words into action.
Your Excellency, A lifeline for school children, especially in conflict. Schools are a safe place, where routines provide protection from danger and signs of normalcy. Schools are also a major source of information on the risks associated with lethal explosives. And they provide access to essential health and psychosocial services.
Ukrainian workforce – teachers, school principals, social workers, psychologists and other professionals are also affected by the conflict. Supporting them is more important than ever so that they can survive and deliver results.
We must ensure that we establish creative, versatile and flexible solutions that combine low- and high-tech methods to reach all children and reduce barriers to their learning. As of mid-March, more than 15,000 schools have started teaching in Ukraine, mostly through distance learning or hybrid in-person options. The Ministry of Education and Science, supported by UNICEF and partners, is doing everything possible to reach Ukrainian children, including online education support from K-11. We support the ongoing digital campaign on explosives risk education and provide education-related. However, distance learning can only be a temporary solution. Lessons learned from the epidemic show the importance of children’s learning in the school environment, with their peers and teachers.
In a wider area, thanks to EU temporary protection guidelines, governments and municipalities in neighboring countries are enrolling children in national school systems and alternative learning pathways. It ensures the continuity of children’s learning and helps them to complete the school year. An estimated 3.7 million children in Ukraine and abroad use online and distance learning options. But there are huge barriers, including limitations of power and resources, language barriers, and unwanted movement of children and their families.
We need to do our best to reach those who are at risk of being left behind. For the youngest students, access to education can be particularly difficult: it is estimated that less than 5% of preschool child refugee children are enrolled in a public kindergarten. Children with disabilities should have access to inclusive services and supportive technologies, as well as programs aimed at meeting their specific needs, including rehabilitation.
Over the past month, we have seen small moments of relief as children and other civilians evacuated from Mariupol and other frontline locations have reached relative safety. Humanitarians have provided millions of people across the country with access to health care, education, water and basic necessities, as well as information, counseling and psychosocial support.
Affected children and parents live in hell in conflict zones
Yet we know that the situation of children and their families in conflict-affected areas is still dire without access to humanitarian assistance. Children and parents told us about their “hell”, where they were forced to starve, drink from muddy ponds and take refuge from constant shelling and artillery fire, avoiding bombs, bullets and landmines on their flights.
The war in Ukraine has had a devastating effect on even the most vulnerable children in the world, as food and fuel prices have reached historic highs. From Afghanistan to Yemen and the Horn of Africa – children already affected by conflict and climate crisis around the world are now paying a heavy price for another war far from their doorstep. The effects of the Ukraine war will continue to be felt around the world.
Your Excellency, Ukrainian children have been uprooted from their homes, separated from their caregivers and subjected to direct war. Their schools have been destroyed and the war, including the infrastructure, hospitals and water and sanitation facilities necessary for their survival and well-being, has been destroyed.
Ukrainian children tell us they want to be reunited with their families, return to their community, go to school and play around them. Kids are tough, but they shouldn’t be. In this war they have already paid an unreasonable price. We must do everything in our power to ensure that their future is not spent.
Again, as humanitarians, we will do everything in our power to meet the needs of children affected by this war – to provide them with safety, stability and security, but it will never be enough.
Ultimately, children need to end this war – their future hangs in the balance. “