Helen Goodman MP: Protecting children in conflict will be at the heart of Labour’s foreign policy

Posted On: 
21st September 2018

Ahead of Labour Party Conference, Save the Children has asked three Shadow Ministers to set out how their agenda would improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. Today, Helen Goodman MP makes the case for Labour foreign policy, followed next week by Preet Gill MP & Dan Carden MP discussing development and humanitarian policy. Look out for Save the Children's work with Conservative Friends of International Development at Conservative Conference.

Almost 30 years ago, nations all over the globe signed the Convention on the Rights of a Child. This document, enshrined in international law, sets out the social, civil, economic, political, health and cultural rights of children.

However, these rights continue to be abused and violated across the world today, particularly in war and conflict situations.

In Myanmar, young girls have been gang raped, detained and effectively made sexual slaves, while girls and boys have also been killed, sometimes in front of their parents.

In Syria, children have been maimed, killed or recruited to fight; some of those forcibly recruited have been as young as seven, while children have also been killed in chemical attacks.

In Yemen, Save the Children have recently warned starvation is being used as a weapon of war, with a further one million children are at risk of famine as a result of the conflict, bringing the total number of children facing famine to over 5 million.

In Nigeria, 350,000 children under the age of five live in cholera ‘hotspots’ in the northeast of the country.

The situation for children all over the world is dire.

A commitment to conflict resolution and human rights will act as the heart of a Labour government’s foreign policy, and we will also commit to working through the UN and ending support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention that put children at great risk.

A Labour government will have a Minister for Peace and Disarmament, who will coordinate efforts to protect civilians in conflict, particularly women and children who are often the most vulnerable. This would also include an updated Government strategy on the protection of civilians that sets out the approach in addressing modern challenges of armed conflict. 

A Labour government will adopt a feminist approach to development, based on the principles of gender justice, rights, intersectionality and solidarity. This is particularly salient for children given the countless reports of sexual violence committed against young girls and boys in conflict scenarios. Our overall foreign policy will reflect these values too, with the appointment of dedicated global ambassadors for women’s rights.

A Labour government will look to implement the Arms Trade Treaty to a consistently high standard, and reform our current arms export system to ensure we are not selling arms to countries who are using them in violation of international humanitarian law. The sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the conflict in Yemen will be immediately suspended, pending an independent, UN-led investigation of alleged war crimes against civilians, such as the 40 children killed in a Saudi air strike on their school bus in August.

While strengthening our commitment to the UN, we also acknowledge its shortcomings, particularly in light of repeated abuses of the veto power by some permanent members of the UN Security Council. A Labour government will work with our international partners to build support for UN reform and make its institutions more effective and responsive to the rights of children and all vulnerable peoples.

Above all, a Labour government’s foreign policy would be committed to creating a world where children can flourish - “in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”.


Helen Goodman is Labour MP for Bishop Auckland.