Children caught up in armed conflicts witnessed the highest numbers in deaths, and injuries in 2018, marking it as the worst year on record, according to a recent report by the United Nations (UN).
More than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in that year, during the 20 conflict situations monitored in the 2018 edition of the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.
The report indicates that around 2,493 children were abducted in 2018, noting that the highest numbers of abductions took place in Somalia 1,609, Congo 367, and Nigeria 180.
Furthermore, increased numbers of abductions were verified in South Sudan with 109, Syria 69, the Central African 62, the Sudan 22 and the Philippines 13.
Children were abducted from homes, schools and public spaces by parties to the conflict, often as a precursor to other grave violations, notably recruitment, and sexual abuse, including sexual slavery, in Congo, Nigeria and Syria, the report indicates.
“Children continue to be used in combat, particularly in Somalia, Nigeria and Syria: around 7,000 children have been drawn into frontline fighting roles around the world, during 2018. They also continue to be abducted, to be used in hostilities or for sexual violence, more than half of the 2,500 reported cases were in Somalia,” UN’ Secretary-General António Guterres said.
Moreover, around 933 cases of sexual violence against boys and girls were reported, the report indicates.
“But this is believed to be an under-estimate, due to lack of access, stigma and fear of reprisals,” it adds.
However, attacks on schools and hospitals have decreased overall, but have intensified in some conflict situations, such as Afghanistan and Syria, which has seen the highest number of such attacks since the beginning of the conflict in the country, the report indicates.
Mali provides the most serious example of children being deprived of access to education, and the military use of schools, as 827 schools in have been closed in the country at the end of December 2018, denying some 244,00 children access to education, the report mentioned.
“It is immensely sad that children continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict, and it is horrific to see them killed and maimed as a result of hostilities”, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, commented, noting that “Parties to conflict must protect children and put in place tangible measures to end and prevent these violations.”
Detention and release of children involved in conflicts
Rather than being seen as victims of recruitment, thousands of children around the world were detained for their actual or alleged association with armed groups in 2018, the report said.
It cites Syria and Iraq as two examples, where, the majority of children deprived of their liberty are under the age of five.
The report calls on nations to work with the UN to help relocate foreign children and women actually or allegedly affiliated with extremist groups, with the best interests of the child as the primary consideration.
The number of children benefiting from release and reintegration support, however, rose in 2018 to 13,600 (up from 12,000 in 2017). The report recommends increased resources and funding to meet the growing needs, as more children are separated from armed groups.
Peace remains the best protection for children
“Peace remains the best protection for children affected by armed conflict,” Guterres, asserted.
Consequently, three Action Plans to end and prevent violations, and protect children, have been signed, following engagement with parties to conflicts in 2018, the report indicates.
Two countries have been involved with the UN-sponsored Action Plans, namely; Central Africa, where two armed groups signed up to Action Plans; and Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) agreed to a deal.
Furthermore, the report indicates that progress has also been made on increased child protection and ending child recruitment in Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In his statement, the Secretary-General reminded all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect children, adding that they must “refrain from directing attacks against civilians, including children”, and reiterating that “peace remains the best protection for children affected by armed conflict.”