Global perspective Human stories

Pioneering report continues to help children survive conflict

Children stand outside the tent where they live in a remote desert camp in southern rural Homs, Syria.
© UNICEF/Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Children stand outside the tent where they live in a remote desert camp in southern rural Homs, Syria.

Pioneering report continues to help children survive conflict

Peace and Security

The UN has verified 266,000 cases of grave violations against children in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America over the past 16 years, two top UN officials said on Thursday – marking 25 years since the Organization released a groundbreaking report on the issue.

Through her seminal report ‘The impact of war on children’Graça Machel urged the international community to take concrete action to protect children from the scourge of war and called on the UN and the global community to act to protect children

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“The international community heeded the call and took action based on Machel’s recommendations, with the General Assembly establishing the Office of the SRSG on children and armed conflict (OSRSG-CAAC), and the Security Council establishing a coordinated UN monitoring and reporting mechanism to continue to track the impact of war on children”, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Virginia Gamba, UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict said in a joint statement.

They noted that the verifications include more than 104,100 children killed and maimed, 93,000 children recruited and used in fighting and support roles, 25,700 children abducted, and another 14,200 child victims of sexual violence.

Last year’s violations

In 2020, the UN verified a total of 26,425 violations against children in conflict situations, the statement said, adding that it corresponds to “72 violations occurring every single day or three violations every hour”.

It was also the seventh year in a row with at least 20,000 verified violations.

“These are only the cases that can be verified through the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, established in 2005 to systematically document the most egregious violations against children in conflict zones. The true figures are undoubtedly much higher”, the UN officials reminded.

More than statistics

These horrific numbers signify more than mere statistics, the UN agency chiefs pointed out, “they represent young lives that have been lost or otherwise devastated by horrifying trauma and suffering. Indeed, many children suffer from more than one grave violation”.

Last year, the UN verified that about 10 per cent of the nearly 20,000 affected children were victims of two or more grave violations.

Progress amidst abuses

Despite this disturbing trend, significant progress has been made since the report was released to protect children from conflict, including global measures and strategies to help keep children safe, such as the Paris Principles aimed to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and groups.

“In addition, the UN continues to work directly with families and communities to reduce children’s vulnerabilities and provide them with the support they need to recover from war”, the statement continued, pointing out that over the years, the UN and its partners have worked relentlessly to secure the release of thousands of children associated with armed forces and armed groups, including 12,643 children in 2020, and provide them with appropriate care and reintegration services.

Across conflict situations, SRSG-CAAC has supported UN engagement with all parties to conflict to enter into written timebound commitments to end and prevent violations.

Action Plans

  • Protect children from the impact of war.
  • Prevent grave violations from occurring.
  • Release children associated with armed forces and armed groups and reintegrate them in their communities.
  • Protect children from sexual violence.
  • Protect schools and hospitals.
  • Hold perpetrators accountable.

And through its programmatic presence, UNICEF, together other partners has assisted in identifying entry points for engagement with commanders from armed forces and groups to negotiate concrete measures to protect children.

A pointing needle

Nevertheless, grave rights violations continue with a widespread and appalling disregard for the rights and wellbeing of children by parties to conflict, the UN officials warned.

They called “unacceptable” that just 18 of the 61 parties to conflict listed in the annexes of the 2021 Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict have a joint Action Plan or similar commitments with the UN to prevent grave rights violations against children.

“All parties listed should agree and adhere to an Action Plan to protect children and to put in place measures to prevent violations against children from occurring in the first place”, they stressed.

The statement concluded with a quote from Ms. Machel: “The impact of conflict on children is everyone’s responsibility, and it must be everyone’s concern”.