‘Bold and resolute’ action needed to protect children affected by war
Presenting her latest annual report, Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, appealed for “bold and resolute action” to protect boys and girls at risk of death, recruitment, rape and other horrors.
The report covers 26 situations in five regions worldwide, representing another high.
Countries include Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine, which are being featured for the first time. New situations in Haiti and Niger are mentioned and details will appear in next year’s edition.
Killed, recruited, abducted
The UN has verified that 18,890 children suffered grave violations during wartime in 2022. Some 8,630 were either killed or maimed; 7,622 were recruited and used in combat, and 3,985 were abducted.
Ms. Gamba said these three violations remained the ones verified at the highest levels, and they all increased last year.
“Children were killed or injured in airstrikes, by explosive weapons, by live ammunition, in crossfire, or in direct attacks. In many cases, they fell victim to explosive remnants of war,” she said.
Rape and sexual slavery
Furthermore, 1,165 children, mainly girls, were raped, gang-raped, forced into marriage or sexual slavery, or sexually assaulted. Some cases were so severe that the victims died.
The senior UN official underlined the need to never forget that these numbers represent actual children whose individual stories are not told.
She cited examples such as the case of three girls in South Sudan who were gang-raped over a five-day period, a 14-year-old girl abducted and burned alive in Myanmar, and boys killed by an improvised explosive device in a school in Afghanistan.
Faces behind the figures
“This is why we must remember that behind the figures are the faces of children suffering from armed violence around the globe. We must do more to prevent and protect our children from the ravages of armed conflict,” she said.
Ms. Gamba also noted that some child victims are punished for their circumstances instead of receiving protection. Last year, 2,496 children were deprived of liberty for their actual or alleged association with parties to conflict.
“Being particularly vulnerable at the hands of authorities, children under detention were exposed to further violations of their rights, including torture and sexual violence. In some cases, they were even sentenced to death,” she said.
Schools and hospitals attacked
The report further revealed verified attacks on 1,163 schools and nearly 650 hospitals in 2022, representing a 112 per cent increase over the previous year. Half of these attacks were carried out by Government forces.
She said the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes also remains a major concern, with a verified “sharp increase” of over 60 per cent in cases last year, both by armed forces and armed groups.
Aid under fire
Meanwhile, humanitarians and the vital aid they provide – often the “only hope” for children and communities affected by conflict – have increasingly come under fire.
The UN verified more than 3,930 incidents of the denial of humanitarian access to children last year. Aid workers were also killed, assaulted and abducted, while humanitarian supplies were looted, and assets and vital infrastructure destroyed.
The Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Omar Abdi, also briefed the Council.
He recalled that the highest numbers of grave violations against children were verified in longstanding protracted conflicts, including in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and Palestine, and Somalia.
Concern for Sudan
Although the current conflict in Sudan erupted outside the reporting period, UNICEF is also gravely concerned about its impact on the 21 million children there.
“More than one million children have now been displaced by the fighting and the UN has received credible reports, under verification, that hundreds of children have been killed and injured,” he said.
Mr. Abdi was adamant that the UN mandate on Children and Armed Conflict is effective, noting that armed groups have released at least 180,000 boys and girls from their ranks over the past 23 years.
However, he said that “as the number of countries on the children and armed conflict agenda grows, so too does the number of children in need of our protection and support”, urging greater international support for UN efforts.
Child recruitment condemned
A young woman civil society representative also brought perspective from her country, Colombia, which is emerging from decades of war that has left “millions of victims”.
Going only by the name Violeta, she said children and young people there live in constant fear of landmines, armed group clashes and forced recruitment.
“It's not easy to see how as the days go by, the chairs in the classroom start emptying because boys and girls are either recruited, killed or displaced, and they need to go elsewhere in order to seek better opportunities,” she said, speaking in Spanish.
Violeta made several recommendations for the Council’s consideration, which included condemning and preventing child recruitment, and condemning sexual violence against children and young people in the strongest terms possible.