By the turn of 2021, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) alerted the world that armed conflict, inter-communal violence and insecurity continued to take a devastating toll on thousands of children throughout 2021, From Afghanistan to Yemen, and Syria to northern Ethiopia, UNICEF denounced grave violations against youngsters in both protracted and new conflicts.
Last week, four children were reportedly among the victims of an attack that killed at least 35 people – including two Save the Children staff – in Kayah state in eastern Myanmar. In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that, year after year, “parties to conflict continue to demonstrate a dreadful disregard for the rights and wellbeing of children”.
“Children are suffering, and children are dying because of this callousness. Every effort should be made to keep these children safe from harm”, she added.
Data is not yet available for this year, but the UN verified 26,425 grave violations against children in 2020.
The first three months of 2021 saw a slight decrease in the overall number of these grave violations but verified cases of abduction and sexual violence continued to rise at alarming rates – by more than 50 and 10 per cent, respectively.
Verified abductions were highest in Somalia, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger).
On the other hand, verified instances of sexual violence were highest in the DRC, Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR).
This year marked a quarter of a century since the publication of Graça Machel’s seminal Impact of war on children report, which urged the UN and international community to take action.
Over the past 16 years, 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.
While these cases were verified through the 2005 UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, the actual figures are most likely much higher, according to UNICEF.
Afghanistan, for example, has the highest number of verified child casualties since 2005. With more than 28,500 incidents, the country accounts for 27 per cent of all verified child casualties globally.
Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa has the highest number of verified attacks on schools and hospitals, with 22 verified in the first six months of the year.
In October, UNICEF highlighted that 10,000 children had been killed or maimed in Yemen since fighting escalated in March 2015 – the equivalent of four youngsters every day.
UNICEF stated that each day, “girls and boys living in areas under conflict endure unspeakable horrors that no human should ever experience.”
One is the persistent and growing threat of explosive weapons, particularly in populated areas.
In 2020, explosive weapons and remnants of war were responsible for nearly 50 per cent of all child casualties, resulting in more than 3,900 children killed and maimed.
Children often fall victim to multiple grave rights violations.
Last year, for example, 37 per cent of abductions verified by the UN-led to the recruitment and use of children in war – surpassing 50 per cent in Somalia, DRC and CAR.
A call for commitment
UNICEF is calling for all conflict parties to commit to formal action plans.
Since 2005, only 37 of such plans have been signed by parties to conflict, which UNICEF called “a shockingly low number given the stakes for children”.
“Ultimately, children living through war will only be safe when parties to conflict take concrete action to protect them and stop committing grave violations”, Ms. Fore underscored.