Grave violations against children in conflict remain “alarmingly high”, with the coronavirus pandemic increasing their vulnerability to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence, a new United Nations report has found.
In its annual Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) report (PDF), released on Monday, the UN said at least 19,379 children affected by war in 2020 were victims of grave violations such as recruitment or rape.
The UN verified a total of 26,425 grave violations, of which 23,946 were committed in 2020 and 2,479 were committed earlier but verified only in 2020.
“Escalation of conflict, armed clashes and disregard for international humanitarian law and international human rights law had a severe impact on the protection of children,” the report found.
According to the report, the highest numbers of grave violations were recorded in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
While more than 8,400 children were killed or harmed in ongoing wars, nearly 7,000 others were recruited to fight, mainly in the DRC, Somalia, Syria, and Myanmar.
Verified cases of abduction and sexual violence against children increased by 90 and 70 percent, respectively, it said – with abductions often coupled with the “recruitment and use of children and sexual violence” including rape.
The UN said the coronavirus pandemic “aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children, including by hampering their access to education, health and social services, limiting child protection activities and shrinking safe spaces”.
Attacks on schools and hospitals were also prevalent in 2020, including serious attacks committed against girls’ education and against health facilities and their staff.
There was also an increase in the military use of schools and hospitals, especially with the brief closure of schools during COVID lockdowns – making them easy targets for military occupation and use, the report said.
“The wars of adults have taken away the childhood of millions of boys and girls again in 2020,” Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on CAAC, said.
“This is completely devastating for them, but also for the entire communities they live in, and destroys chances for a sustainable peace.”
‘List of shame’
Meanwhile, Save the Children in a statement on Monday criticised the CAAC for failing to add perpetrators of violations against children to the so-called “list of shame”, an addendum to the UN’s report which singles out parties who fail to keep children safe during conflict.
The rights group said that “in a disheartening decision”, the UN Secretary General António Guterres again failed to add the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen to the list.
“Despite killing and maiming at least 194 children in Yemen in 2020 according to UN verified data, the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition gets a green light to continue destroying children’s lives in Yemen,” Save the Children said.
“Unfortunately, other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria, also got a free pass for committing grave violations of children’s rights – despite the UN verifying a pattern of grave violations year after year,” it added.
Israel was not added to the list, despite the UN recording 1,031 grave violations against 340 Palestinians and three Israeli children in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Israeli security forces killed eight Palestinian children and one Israeli child last year, and 87 children reported ill-treatment and breaches of due process by Israeli forces while in detention – with 83 percent reporting physical violence.
While Save the Children welcomed the inclusion of countries such as Myanmar as situations of concern, it also noted Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine were not included.
Commenting on the report, Inger Ashing, CEO for Save the Children, said: “We strongly urge the Secretary General to reconsider his decision and hold parties to conflict all over the world to the same standard. The decision to include an armed actor in the ‘list of shame’ should be based only on a pattern of grave violations against children verified by the UN, not on politics.
“While there have been some positive steps this year, not applying the same criteria fairly and consistently can have dramatic consequences for children,” she said.