Children in armed conflicts a modern tragedy

Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis, one of Canada’s most influential international human rights advocates, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Royal Roads’ June 18 convocation ceremony.

His remarks were excerpted in the Times Colonist June 23:

There was an intense debate recently at the UN Security Council on what happens to children in situations of armed conflict. The secretary-general said 2014 was the worst year in the last couple of decades for children, and that the evisceration and annihilation of children as a result of the Syrias, and the Libyas, and the Afghanistans, and the Iraqs and the Yemens was almost too heartbreaking to imagine, let alone to chronicle.

My mind went back to those 220 young girls who were abducted by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria more than a year ago. The violation of their persons is incomprehensible. They undoubtedly have been physically abused. They’ve been raped. They have suffered terribly as domestic servants. Many of them are no doubt pregnant and beside themselves as to how to handle the pregnancy. Yet the world never adequately responded. We all promised, and nothing happened.

We managed to find drones that can pinpoint and assassinate al-Qaida terrorists from Pakistan to Yemen, but we cannot summon the collective determination to rescue 200 young girls.

While I was at the United Nations, news emerged that electrified Europe, that in the middle of 2014, little boys were sexually abused by French troops who were peacekeeping in the Central African Republic.

The knowledge of what had happened to those boys was gathered by the UN, and no one said anything for an entire year. In the highest levels of officialdom, there had been damage control, there had been secrecy, there had been a conspiratorial network to suppress the information.

When I think of what happened to those little boys, what happens to the girls in Nigeria, I think of the broader issue of sexual violence, which has become a kind of epidemic. It’s not only in conflict — it’s intimate-partner violence, it’s marital rape, it’s gang rape, it’s what happens outside of conflict.

It’s heartbreaking, it’s incomprehensible. It’s rooted in gender inequality.

There is no struggle on the planet more important than the struggle for gender equality. You cannot marginalize 50 per cent of the world’s population and expect to achieve social justice. It just won’t happen.

The litany of discrimination, stigma and violence visited on women — international sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, the absence of land rights, the absence of political representation — is a monstrous reality that we must overcome.

Read the entire story.