Fiona O’Donnell: Help children caught up in violence

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last year was a terrible year for children who live in parts of the world affected by conflict. To safeguard them and future generations we need a comprehensive, long-term response from governments and global institutions. We have seen a record number of children displaced, the deliberate targeting of children in conflict, horrific acts of violence and abuse against children and the continuing recruitment of child soldiers. There is so much we could do in so many areas to protect these children better.

Over the last few months I have had the privilege of chairing an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry into the UK’s response to supporting children in conflict zones. The inquiry’s final report was launched at parliament last week, where I was joined by actress and War Child Global Ambassador Carey Mulligan, and Rob Wilson the chief executive of the War Child charity, which provided the secretariat.

The report sets out the challenges and the way forward. Not enough has been done to protect children and we need leadership in the UK on this issue to ensure that action across government departments provides better protection to children.

The APPG for Protecting Children in Armed Conflict aims to make a positive contribution to international development and foreign and defence policy to ensure that we have the expertise, resourcing and programmes to address the priorities for protecting children. As the international community sets its post-2015 development goals and prepares for the World Humanitarian Summit, we need to ensure that children affected by conflict have access to health and education, and that their needs and protection are prioritised in emergency and humanitarian responses.

The United Nations needs clear and ambitious goals, and dedicated resources for protecting children. Here in the UK we should be ready to play our part. I hope that this report will receive cross-party support for our recommendations which draw on the evidence provided by NGOs, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Nelson Mandela said, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

We owe it to the memories of the children who have died or suffered in conflict to ensure that we do more to give the promise of a childhood for the children who endure today and in the future.

Fiona O’Donnell is MP for East Lothian and chair of the UK parliament’s all-party group on children in conflict zones.