Fewer than half of the conflicting parties around the world have committed to protecting children
NEW YORK, December 31, 2021 – This year has seen a spate of serious violations of children in both protracted and new conflicts, UNICEF warned today. From Afghanistan to Yemen and from Syria to northern Ethiopia, thousands of children paid a devastating price as armed conflict, intermunicipal violence and insecurity persisted. At least four children are said to have been among the victims just last week when at least 35 people – including two Save the Children employees – were killed in Kayah state, eastern Myanmar. This was just the latest high profile example of the devastating toll of conflict with children and the ongoing threat to humanitarian workers.
“Year after year, conflicting parties demonstrate a terrible disregard for the rights and well-being of children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Children suffer and children die because of this numbness. Every effort should be made to protect these children from harm. “
While data are not yet available for 2021, 26,425 serious violations against children were confirmed by the United Nations in 2020. In the first three months of 2021, the total number of confirmed serious violations decreased slightly, but confirmed cases of kidnappings and sexual violence continued to increase at an alarming rate – by more than 50 and 10 percent, respectively – compared to the first quarter of last year.
Confirmed abductions were highest in Somalia, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Lake Chad Basin countries (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger). Confirmed incidents of sexual violence were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and the Central African Republic.
This year marks 25 years since the groundbreaking Graça Machel report, The Impact of War on Children, calling on the international community to take concrete steps to protect children from the scourge of war. and called on the United Nations and the world community to protect children.
The United Nations has reviewed 266,000 cases of serious violations of children in more than 30 conflict situations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America over the past 16 years. These are just the cases reviewed by the United Nations-led monitoring and reporting mechanism, which was set up in 2005 to systematically document the most egregious violations of children in conflict areas. The real numbers will be much higher.
Afghanistan, for example, has the highest number of confirmed child victims since 2005 at more than 28,500 – that is 27 percent of all confirmed child victims worldwide. Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa region has the highest number of confirmed attacks on schools and hospitals since 2005, with 22 such attacks confirmed in the first six months of this year.
In October, UNICEF pointed out that 10,000 children have been killed or mutilated in Yemen since the fighting escalated in March 2015, the equivalent of four children a day.
Off the headlines, the UN has confirmed violations in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Libya, Mozambique and the Philippines.
Despite decades of lobbying with conflicting parties and their influencers, as well as improved monitoring, reporting and reaction mechanisms in the event of serious violations of the law, children continue to bear the brunt of the war. Every day girls and boys who live in conflict areas suffer unspeakable horrors that no one should ever experience.
The use of explosive weapons, especially in populated areas, is an ongoing and growing threat to children and their families. In 2020, high-explosive weapons and explosive remnants of war accounted for nearly 50 percent of all child casualties, resulting in more than 3,900 children being killed and maimed. Explosive weapons can be deadly and long-lasting, including disrupting vital services.
In many cases, children are victims of several serious violations of rights. For example, in 2020, 37 percent of UN-confirmed abductions resulted in the recruitment and use of children in war, with Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic recording more than 50 percent of those cases.
UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict – including the 61 listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s 2021 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict – to commit to formal action plans and to take concrete action to protect children. This includes preventing serious violations, releasing children from the armed forces and groups, protecting children from sexual violence and stopping attacks on hospitals and schools.
Only 37 such plans have been signed by parties to the conflict since 2005 – a shockingly low number considering that children are at stake.
“Ultimately, children who live at war are only safe if parties to the conflict take concrete steps to protect them and put an end to serious violations,” said Fore. “As we approach the end of 2021, I call on all parties to the conflict to stop attacks on children, to protect their rights and to strive for peaceful political solutions to the war.”
Notes for editors:
The six serious violations are: killing and maiming children; Recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups; Sexual violence against children; Attacks on schools or hospitals; Kidnapping children; and denial of humanitarian access to children.
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