Graça Machel, former Minister of Education and
First Lady, Mozambique
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
GRAÇA MACHEL, former Minister of Education and First Lady, Mozambique: This is for
me the indication of that moral vacuum. Is where you have adults who deliberately conceive a
strategy of kidnapping, training, and sometimes even dragging children to send them in the front,
to expose them to killings and of course for themselves to kill.
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: UNICEF releases its report on the effect of modern warfare on
children during this edition of Common Ground.
MACHEL: The deliberate action of transforming a child of 11, 12 into a killer, I think,
you just can’t explain this.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
In just one of the 30 some wars taking place in the world right now, 95% of the children have
witnessed massacres. One-third have seen their family members murdered. The country is Rwanda and
the experience of these children in central Africa is not unique. A study just released by the
United Nations Children’s Fund on the impact of armed conflict on children found that ten million
children have been psychologically traumatized by war in the past decade alone. Two million kids
were killed and another four to five million disabled. Hundreds of thousands of children from
Liberia to Afghanistan are forced into joining armies.
I talked about these young soldiers, and the other findings of the UNICEF study, with Graça
Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique. Mrs. Machel took part in Mozambique’s war of
liberation against Portugal and was Education Minister in the post-independence Mozambique. Her
husband, President Samora Machel, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1986 while Mozambique
was embroiled in a civil war fueled by the South African-backed Renamo movement. During that
period, nearly half a million children died in their country as a result of the war. It’s that
first-hand experience with war that compelled Graça Machel to undertake UNICEF’s study of
war and children.
MACHEL: I was Minister of Education in my own country when a conflict erupted. And I was
left with no choice than to acknowledge the problem that in our school children could not learn
unless we tackled the issue of how to make them feel children so that they will have the
environment to learn. And because of that we started in a very modest way to develop some
strategies of what today you can call psychosocial approaches to recovery and rehabilitation.
DAVIDSON: UNICEF is celebrating 50 years now and it was created after World War II as a
way of helping children who were on the verge of starvation, had been separated from families and
a number of things, and it seems such a terrible irony that now 50 years after the creation of
UNICEF that once again the agency is having to concentrate on children in war. Does it strike you
that way as well?
MACHEL: You said it very correctly. It is really a tragic irony that at the time the
national communities are celebrating 50 years of UNICEF. I would even say more. The United
Nations itself, it was created as our common house through which we would build peace and we
would prevent, I mean the horrors of the second World War to happen again. UNICEF was just one
instrument to heal the wounds and of course to deal specifically with children. But the whole of
UN, that’s the major reason of the mission of UN is peace building and preventing conflict of
happening. And you know, now there we are, 50 years later, we have much more conflict than at
that time and we have even the proven and able to embrace… I mean the magnitude and the
dimension of the problem, we have to deal with.
And I think it’s just the right time to reflect, what’s gone wrong? What’s happening here? And
maybe more than UNICEF’s mission to be readdressed is the role mission of UN to concentrate on
what is the essential way in which we can readdress the causes of conflict and to embark in a
process of peace building in which children are not going to be victimized as they are. But of
course there is room for specific work for UNICEF itself as a specialized agency.
DAVIDSON: You report that you led on the impact of war on children, actually drew the
conclusion that more and more the world is “being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum.” That’s a
quote. What personal conclusions do you draw? You had talked about, you know, you had said
earlier you know, we have to ask what’s going on here.
MACHAL: You know, when we came to that conclusion, what we were trying to say is it is
true that in the history of humankind, we always had wars. But the way ?? rules and actually the
international community went further establishing mechanisms and principles and treaties and
conventions on how do you wage a war and how do you keep nevertheless a human deterrent?? of how
to wage a war.
But what is happening is that all those instruments which have been refined along these years are
completely ignored in the type of conflict we face nowadays. There’s no limit.
DAVIDSON: And that’s a major change from World War II ??
MACHAL: That’s exactly the change. Some people do argue that you can’t say that the world
is more violent today than it was before or that wars are more nastier now than before. My point
is you are in a situation where children, for instance, they used to be incidental casualties or
they could be collateral, you know, victims of a war.
DAVIDSON: But they weren’t right in the battlefield.
MACHAL: They were not first, they were not targets as such. They were not involved as
active participants, as perpetrators of wars. And this is for me the indication of that moral
vacuum. Is where you have a dog?? who deliberately conceives a strategy of kidnapping, training,
and sometimes even drugging, children to send them in the front, to expose them to killings and
of course, for themselves to kill. I think, that’s the deliberate action of transforming a child
of 11, 12 into a killer. I think you just can’t explain this. It’s not the point of saying, well
if you shell a bomb?? it can kill children. That’s a different thing. It’s how do you manipulate
a child in her or his inner side to pervert completely, I mean the values which a child should
develop, and to transform him into an instrument, just a weapon. And it’s that dehumanization of
children which I believe is the indication of the vacuum.
DAVIDSON: And making children into soldiers is only the tip of the effect…
MACHAL: We are being very kind if we call them child soldiers. What happens is that
they’re not soldiers. You don’t make of a child of 13 a soldier. You can teach him how to use a
gun and how to manipulate a gun and how to kill, but he is not a soldier. First of all they are
not trained even to acknowledge what I was talking about—the rules of a war. They are never told
that. They are just being used—how to use a gun for killing—that’s all. They are not even being
transformed into soldiers. And that’s why it’s so intolerable and unacceptable. This cannot go
DAVIDSON: The UNICEF study headed by Graça Machal covers a broad range of issues
from the plague of land mines sown throughout the planet—there is currently one land mine for
every 20 children—to the problems refugees may encounter even after they’ve apparently found
safety in the camps.
There are so many ways that your report identifies children as being the targets of war. Just
recently I did a series of interviewees to ban land mines and the incredible number of land mines
spread throughout the world and how they’re even being created now in ways that attract children.
MACHAL: Yes. That again is what I say is terrible. Those who manufacture this type of
explosives, they know exactly at the end who is going to be the victim. But they just don’t care.
And my question is, what type of a people we are becoming when we know exactly what is going to
happen to children? And even to make it more attractive to them than to adults. That’s what I’m
saying, they’re being targeted. It’s deliberate to target children because then, it’s a kind of
collective suicide, you know? It’s to say, well we won’t continue to be as humankind as we are,
and the way to do it is to pervert exactly those who are supposed to be our continuity. And it
does not make sense.
DAVIDSON: Another target that we’ve heard so much about in the war in the former
Yugoslavia has been in particular, girls, young women, and the use of rape and gender-based
MACHAL: You’ll find it more and more. I mean cases with much more, I mean denounced in
the case of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But it is a phenomenon which is overspread in those
conflicts of today that rape is being used more and more as a weapon of war. And exactly the
report gives very clear prominence to this issue to say this has to stop. And one of the ways is
to declare rape as a war crime, which implies that the international community has to improve the
mechanisms in which when violators are identified, have to be brought to court and they have to
be severely punished. People have to know that they will be held accountable for what they do.
DAVIDSON: Right now rape is not a war crime?
MACHAL: No, it is, only in two cases. In the case exactly of the former Yugoslavia and
Rwanda. But it’s not a general criminalization of rape and that’s exactly what the study is
saying is that in any case where rape is to be used as a weapon of war, either for militaries or
civilians, it should be punished accordingly and mechanisms of that punishment should be
strengthened and improved to make it effective.
DAVIDSON: I guess it’s not too surprising when you think about the conditions within a
refugee camp, but I was still surprised when I was reading the report to learn about the extent
of both outright abuse and illness within camps, which are actually supposed to protect children
and the other people who are contained in them. And I never thought of refugee camps as being
such a… a place of further victimization I guess.
MACHAL: Yes they are. It is unfortunately, I mean the refugee camps and the internal
displaced persons’ camp has been where you find much more of these incidents. That’s why we
recommend that the humanitarian agencies, including ?? should improve the way they organize the
camps, actually, not to facilitate for the violators to reach women. And just simple things of
the way you lay out a camp, this is one. A second is that they need to develop a program of
awareness to protect so that women and girls should know that they are particularly vulnerable
and they should know how to protect themselves. And thirdly, it is even to have a much global
campaign in which those who are found guilty of that, immediately in the camps themselves, these
cases should be brought to acknowledge and to discourage it.
But we always recommend something in the study is because you’ll be surprised to realize that
although we all know this and even with the knowledge that AIDS is spreading very quickly, you
don’t find, I mean, the system of health assistance in the camps does not take into account
women’s needs. And just a simple thing. You don’t even find a gynecologist in the camps. We just
have doctors, I mean…
DAVIDSON: ?? ??
MACHAL: Yes. But there is no gynecologist. There’s no system for instance of counseling
if… we have to tackle the problem of rape, to give support and counseling to women who have
been victims. So these are the things we feel. One, the very outlay of the camp has to be much
more improved. And camps have to be aware of this and they have to help make it a kind of
mobilization to prevent cases. And then also to prepare themselves to assist those for any reason
to become victims.
DAVIDSON: We’ll pause for just a moment to identify ourselves. The program you’re
listening to is Common Ground, sponsored by the Stanley Foundation. My guest today is
Graça Machal, the former First Lady of Mozambique. She was head of a two year study by
UNICEF, examining the impact of war on children, which includes recommendations for protecting
children during armed conflict.
Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available, and at the end of the
broadcast, I’ll give you details on how to order. Common Ground is a service of the
Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of
programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
UNICEF does not argue that it’s anti-war agenda is some grandiose initiative to bring peace in
our time, but rather that it serves as a vital beginning. The organization states that insisting
on the rights of children is one of the best ways of reasserting core humanitarian values.
Graça Machal and I talked about what happens when children grow up never encountering those
values. We’re so much more aware today of the effect of early childhood experiences on a person
for the rest of their lives. Are you hopeful that a child, whose entire life has been lived under
war and have had no experience at normal day-to-day life, are you hopeful that they could
eventually lead a normal productive adult life?
MACHAL: I do, I do believe and we must believe because otherwise we will not invest
enough in the strategies of rehabilitation and reintegration. You know, what we have these
children to do is not that exactly that they will forget what happened to them. No, we are saying
they have to learn to deal with those experiences and nevertheless we should allow them to have
the strength and the energy and the capacity, you know, to lead a dignified way. Although the
scars will be big, you know. So the point is not that we say, you can just completely forget. A
child will witness atrocities. A child will be taken into the extreme of killing a human being.
This is something you’ll never forget in your life. But the point is we need to reorientate, this
we are still in the process of development, of growing, then we should push much more for the
positive energy and constructive ways of how do you develop a field?? of living with this type of
experiences, but at the same time you earn a living in a dignified way. That’s the point. We
cannot afford ??, we have to reinvent ways in which we bring back the normalcy of life of these
children to a family, to a community, to schooling and training, which is going to give them an
alternative of how to live properly.
DAVIDSON: And in a way it does seem overwhelming, but your own country, Mozambique, is
proof that life can change because even during the civil war in your country, when you were
Minister of Education, you were able to raise the percentage of children who are in primary
school from an incredible, I mean a low point of 40% to 90% of the boys, 75% of the girls. And
you could say, there is proof that these things can change.
MACHAL: It can be done and it must be done. And what we are saying is exactly to call
their attention of all the actors involved. Either the national or the international community to
say, look, let’s us give a chance to children. If we do give them a chance, they can prove that
part of the problems caused by war can be overcome. And it is exactly that we should continue to
invest in their capacities to deal with the difficulties, to overcome the problems, and really to
rebuild their own lives. And education, it is clearly a powerful instrument for that. That’s why
we recommend some measures in which education is ?? part of a healing process, but also it’s part
of the preventing conflicts and even in terms of skills, of conflict resolution, starting even in
schools and in families and communities to have this conflict resolution skills which can help
this young generation to prevent what we, in our adulthood were not able to.
DAVIDSON: At least soldiers in this century have had protections to a certain standard of
treatment under the Geneva Conventions. I mean, sometimes they were violated. Do we need
something akin to the Geneva Conventions to protect children during war. I mean, there is within
the Geneva Conventions in fact some protocol that include civilians and children. But obviously
that hasn’t been enough. And also, soldiers are trained to know what their rights are under the
Geneva Conventions. Children are not. It’s a tough situation I think.
MACHAL: We don’t need to have a special convention on this. What we need is the
enforcement of the international standards which already do exist. I think this is a major
problem which the international community is faced with. Is that, you know, we have very good
instruments. It is true that in the case of children we need to increase and to improve a kind of
child-centered sensitivity, in terms of how do you deal with children in situations of conflict.
But we don’t need much more new instruments. What we need is the enforcement of the existing
DAVIDSON: And in fact we have the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is one
MACHAL: …We have the conventions. We have the conventions….
DAVIDSON: …newest instruments….
MACHAL: But again the difficulty is, even countries which have ratified the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, they are not implementing correctly. And it is really an important work
to be done to bring the member states to comply with what they have made as a commitment when
they ratified the Convention. There is a long way to go in terms of implementation. Even in
certain cases, in cases involving them in conflict. There are some governments who are doing
DAVIDSON: And it is a new convention. Was it 1990 that countries began signing it?
MACHAL: It is the most ratified convention we ever had in the history of the UN. Which
shows, I mean, a good potential of child rights. It is, it can be a platform in which all of us,
we agree. But now, the challenge is to move from agreement and statements to implementation, to a
full implementation of those commitments. And I think the next is the challenge of UNICEF and all
the organizations which are working with children, and particularly in child rights, to campaign
and to rally and to make sure that further progress is being made in the implementation.
DAVIDSON: Several years ago, just after the start of UNICEF’s Decade for Children, I
interviewed the late James Grant, who was the director of UNICEF then. He was very hopeful about
a revolutionary shift in attitude towards children throughout the world. Are we any nearer in
your opinion to such a historic shift?
MACHAL: You know, in one sense the problems we face are so overwhelming that we sometimes
forget the huge progress which has been made, for instance, in immunization and the question
of… I mean, it is in health, you know, there is a lot more which has been done. It does not
mean that we are close to solving problems. But there is clearly, a rising, increasing of
success. But the difficulty is that in the meantime new problems are rising, as this for
instance, is of conflict. As for instance the exploitation of, sexual exploitation of children,
as child labor. So the balance here has not been reached yet because although we have made much
more success, many new problems are appearing to increase. So that’s exactly why we call for the
development agencies, not the humanitarian agencies. The development agencies to do the work, is
in prevention, investing much more in human development. Increasing those programs which really
will give a chance to people to develop their potential. And to keep children in the mainstream.
Within the family, within schools, within the social support networks which are not going to
exclude and to marginalize children. So it is a problem of development. And it’s not a problem of
humanitarian assistance. Right?
DAVIDSON: Umm hmmm.
DAVIDSON: Yes, in order to create a more peaceful world you have to start….
MACHAL: …absolutely. Peaceful world, more equitable world, in which everyone has an
opportunity, I mean to develop its potential. And that’s what we are aiming at. And we try even
in this report to bring in the development agencies of the UN and the bilateral, and even the
multilateral, to say, “Look you have to keep children as part of your agenda, if in 10, 15 years
we are to feel a difference.”
DAVIDSON: What motivated the United Nations, or UNICEF at this time, to make this study?
Well actually it was the United Nations, the General Assembly.
MACHAL: It came, the suggestion was brought by the Committee, the Committee on the Rights
of the Child. Because in their monitoring and reporting of the countries they realized that this
was an increasing phenomenon. And they decided it would be important to raise it to the General
Assembly. And the General Assembly then analyzed and it made this resolution and request. I think
that alone, it’s a good point. It’s because then the international community recognized that here
we have a problem. And we want to know exactly what are the features and what are the added
dimensions of the problem, so then we can act. Let us hope that every time we present the reports
and we suggest the recommendations, then really a very strong commitment will come then its
DAVIDSON: We can only hope. Thank you so much Mrs. Machal.
MACHAL: Thank you.
DAVIDSON: I’ve been talking with Graça Machal, the former Minister of Education for
Mozambique and the former first lady of that country. Graça Machal was the head of a UNICEF
Committee of eminent persons that has just released its report on the impact of armed conflict on
children. That UNICEF report concludes with the quote, “We want a society where people are more
important than things. Where children are precious, a world where people can be more human,
caring and gentle. Let us claim children as zones of peace. Peace is every child’s right.” For
Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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