Blog by Asha Asokan, MMEG Grantee 2019

Side events on children and armed conflict.jpg

As per the UN report on Children and Armed Conflict, approximately 250 million children are living in countries and areas affected by conflict and with this increased conflict around the world, violence against children in conflict countries has also increased. As per the report released by UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, more than 10,000 children were killed or maimed in 2017 around the world, especially in Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Syria. And a total of more than 24,000 violations of child rights were reported in 2018, a sharp increase from the previous year, according to the annual report on Children and Armed Conflict. The need and urgency for child protection is very huge due to the increased conflict around the world.

With an interest to work in human rights and humanitarian field, in 2010, I moved from India to Sudan and then later to South Sudan in 2012. This gave me the opportunity to work on civilian protection, with special focus on children, women and refugees, in the context of armed conflict. My focus of work, in conflict countries, was mainly on protecting children during armed conflict, especially from grave violations committed by armed forces and groups in the context of conflict.

At the Security Council to attend debate on children and armed conflict (1).JPG

After six years of my work in conflict and post conflict regions on peace, civilian protection especially women and child protection, I decided to pursue my second masters on policies to contribute in a better way for the protection of children and women in conflict and post-conflict countries. In 2018, I was awarded a generous rotary Peace fellowship to study a two-year master’s program on policies at Duke University. Later in April 2019, I was awarded another generous grant from Margaret McNamara Education Grants (MMEG) to support my career development activities, including attending conferences, speaking events and to partially fund my three-month applied field experience with United Nations in New York.  

A mid-career master’s program at Duke is equipping me with all the policy tools necessary to shape social, political and economic development efforts worldwide and to understand conflict mitigation mechanism in depth. This course of study is helping me to learn in depth about policies and is enhancing my analytical skills. Plus, I am studying more about the ethical dimensions of policy decisions.

In addition to the opportunity to study on policies, I also got the opportunity to do three months of applied field experience at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, commencing in June 2019. I decided to choose the United Nations Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (UN OSRSG – CAAC) as this will give me the opportunity to understand children and armed conflict issues around the world and expand my horizon in understanding child protection issues outside of South Sudan, where I had previously worked with United Nations Mission in South Sudan. The office of the SRSG CAAC is mandated to report on six grave violations against children in conflict context and around the world there are twenty country situations that has been specifically monitored, because of the active conflict, by the United Nations on children and armed conflict issues. Six grave violations monitored and reported to the UN Secretary General and Security Council includes killing and maiming, abduction, sexual violence,  attack against schools and hospital, denial of humanitarian assistance and recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups in the context for armed conflict.

 The AFE is giving me opportunities to understand the children and armed conflict issues at a headquarters level, where advocacy is done with the parties to the conflict and with the United Nations member states to ensure the protection of children in the context of armed conflict. I got the opportunity to attend many high-level meetings and network with different expertise working on the issues. During my meeting with the Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Conflict, I was encouraged to hear her that her office is working with different actors to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict, raise awareness, promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by war, and foster international cooperation to improve their protection.

 In addition to the AFE, MMEG funding is supporting me to attend different conferences and events within and outside US. Such conferences will help me in the work that I do in two ways, by improving my knowledge and skill on the subject and secondly by networking with like minded professionals. It helps me to understand different perspectives about the topic from different speakers and conference attendees. Later in the year, I will speak at different events organized by different organizations on topics - peace building, mediation, women’s protection and child protection. All of these are wonderful opportunities just strengthen my passion and responsibility to contribute more in the human rights field and global peace and international development.

 These opportunities are made possible because of my two grants --The Rotary Peace Fellowship and the Margaret McNamara Education Grants. These opportunities are helping me to strengthen my skills and my responsibility to contribute in a better way for the protection of women and children in conflict and post conflict countries.