14, Jul 2018 | CJP Team
The recently published Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict from the United Nations Secretary-General has revealed that, in 2017, “there was a large increase in the number of violations compared with the number reported for 2016”. The report notes that there were “at least 6,000 verified violations by government forces and more than 15,000 by a range of non-State armed groups.”
In a statement, Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said that the UN has “verified more than 21,000 violations committed against children in 2017,” adding that it also has “reliable reports of more than 10,000 children killed or maimed in armed conflict last year.” In contrast, in 2016, “more than 15,500 children became victims of widespread violations,” with “3,512 children killed or maimed” in that year, 24% higher than 2015 figures. Dujarric’s statement noted that the Secretary-General “is outraged” over the figures for 2017, “a significant increase compared to previous years”.
The report highlights several countries in which children fell prey to violence from conflict. For example, it indicates that “verified cases of the recruitment and use of children quadrupled in the Central African Republic (299) and doubled in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,049) compared to 2016.” Meanwhile, “the number of verified cases of the recruitment and use of children” continued at “alarming levels” in Somalia, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen. The report further highlights Somalia, where more than 1,600 children were abducted by the militant group Al-Shabaab, indicating “a sustained reliance on children for combat and support duties.” Notably, the report previously explains how “boys and girls recruited and used were often doubly victimized by subsequently being detained for their former association with armed forces or groups”.
In addition, according to the report, increases in the recruitment and use of children frequently aligned with rising “levels of killing and maiming of children.” Moreover, increases in violence and armed clashes resulted in “a substantial increase in the number of child casualties” in Myanmar and Iraq, while Yemen, the Syrian Arab Republic and Afghanistan “remained the country situations with the highest number of verified casualties.”
The report notes that a “high number of denials of humanitarian access, including in Myanmar, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, prevented thousands of children from receiving essential aid.” Moreover, there were over 900 verified cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children “across all country situations, representing an increase from last year.” The report notes here that instances of “conflict-related sexual violence remain particularly challenging to verify” and “remain chronically underreported”.
A UN news piece highlighted that Syria has seen the highest number of verified violations against children ever documented in the country. Violence in Kasai, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), led to “an almost eightfold increase in attacks on schools and hospitals,” amounting to 515 in 2017, according to the original report.There was also a spike in similar incidents in the Philippines. In a press briefing, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children Armed Conflict, questioned, “When your own house or your school can be attacked without qualms, when traditional safe-havens become targets, how can boys and girls escape the brutality of war?” She stated that this showed “a blatant disregard for international law by parties to conflict, making civilians, especially children, increasingly vulnerable to violence, use and abuse”.
The report emphasises the need for the international community to prioritise the prevention of violations of children impacted by conflict, noting that “failing to assume this collective responsibility affects not only the boys and girls living in insecurity, but may also amplify grievances between belligerent parties and reduce their ability to overcome conflict in a peaceful manner.” It stresses the need to consider child protection as a key part of “any comprehensive strategy to prevent and resolve conflict” to achieve “sustainable peace,” and to involve children while developing such strategies. Dujarric’s statement, too, echoed this sentiment, saying, “The Secretary-General reminds parties to conflict of their responsibility to protect children, in line with international humanitarian and human rights laws. He calls on all parties to conflict to engage with the United Nations to develop concrete measures to end and prevent grave violations against children and to provide support and relief to affected children.”
Feature Image: Internally displaced children, covered with mud, wait with their families as they are stuck in the town of Khirbet Al-Joz, in Latakia countryside, waiting to get permission to cross into Turkey near the Syrian-Turkish border, Syria, February 7, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah