A report by UNICEF has revealed that between 2005 and 2020, the United Nations verified more than 266,000 grave violations against children in 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, The organization lamented that the figure is a fraction of the violations that occurred, as access and security constraints, including the shame, pain, and fear that children and family survivors suffer often hamper the reporting, documentation and verification of violations in situations of armed conflict.
The report noted that West and Central Africa regions had the second highest number of verified violations since 2005 with more than 67,000 cases, which accounted for a quarter of all violations globally. In the Central Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), conflict and insecurity have been major drivers of population displacement, which has put children further at risk of grave violations
In the three countries, the number of verified violations increased by 40 per cent in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the last quarter of 2021,even as hundreds of civilians, including children, have been killed in recent attacks in Burkina Faso and Mali.
The report known as; 25 years of children and armed conflict: Taking action to protect children in war, found that in West and Central Africa, more than 7,600 children were killed or maimed in armed conflicts, while 42,000 children were recruited by parties to conflicts. It was also discovered that no less than 4,800 children were forcibly married, while more than 8,000 children were victims of sexual violence from 2005 to 2020
In West and Central Africa, the United Nations verified more than 2,500 incidents of attacks against schools and hospitals and no fewer than 1,900 incidents of denial of humanitarian access for children since 2005.
In Nigeria there were 391 verified cases of violations against 306 children. The violations occurred mostly in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states and were attributed to ISWAP and other armed groups. This is a 56 per cent increase in the number of violations against children in 2020.
In most conflict areas in the West and Central Africa regions, civilians continue to be targeted, including the deliberate targeting of frontline humanitarian workers who are finding it more difficult to deliver life-saving services and supplies to children in large parts of the Central Sahel and other conflict-affected areas of the region.
Speaking, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said; “Behind each of the violations detailed in the report is a child, his or her family and members of a community whose lives are torn apart, sometimes forever. We cannot remain indifferent and silent. The killing, abduction, and rape of girls and boys are horrific crimes. The increase in verified grave violations in the Central Sahel over the last quarter and their devastating impact on the wellbeing of children shows the need and importance of continuing our efforts to provide care to the victims and advocate for their immediate end.Attacks on civilians including children must be stopped and all measures for their protection, including during military operations, must be taken.”
Based on sixteen years of data from the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, the report illustrates the impact that armed conflicts had on children, by presenting trends of grave violations across the world over time. The report examines how information on the documented patterns of grave violations is being used to respond to children’s needs and how engagement with parties to conflict leads to ending and preventing grave violations.
The annual number of verified violations in the world has gradually increased since 2005, surpassing 20,000 a year for the first time since 2014 and reaching 26,425 in 2020. From 2016 to 2020, the daily global average of verified grave violations was an alarming 71 violations. The elevated number of violations in recent years demonstrates the dramatic impact that armed conflict and increasingly complex and protracted protection crises have on children.
The report notes that many children suffer from more than one violation, thereby increasing their vulnerability. For example, abduction is often combined with or leads to other violations, especially recruitment and use of sexual violence. Children, especially girls that have been abducted or associated with parties to conflict are exposed to elevated risks of violence, including rape, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
The report found that grave violations against children were committed by states and non-state actors alike; underscoring the importance of engagement with all parties to conflict, to meaningfully end and prevent violations against children.
In order to bolster accountability, parties to conflict listed in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict develop and implement Action Plans with specific, concrete, and time-bound actions to establish sustainable measures to protect children from the impact of conflict. Between 2005 and 2021, a total of 16 Action Plans were signed by parties to conflict in six conflict situations. Furthermore,14 Action Plans were signed with non-state actors, while the other two were signed with state actors. The report presented several examples highlighting the critical value and impact of Action Plans in bringing about positive change for children, both in the immediate and long terms, as well as outlining challenges and obstacles.
The ever-growing number of armed non-state actors, the development and employment of new means and methods of warfare, the use of improvised explosive devices and other explosive weapons, especially in populated areas, are some of the factors contributing to the creation of unprecedented challenges for protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
It is important to note that the increase in verified violations over time also underscores the increasing strength of the monitoring and reporting mechanisms over the years. The development of guidance on monitoring and reporting, the training and capacity building of UN and its partners’ staff on documenting grave violations, and the awareness raising of families and communities on the protection risks for children, have all contributed to strengthen the mechanism and enabled it to collect increased information on grave violations against children.
Whilst the overall ability of the United Nations to document and verify incidents of grave violations has increased over time, it has fluctuated from year to year, from one situation to another, and from one violation to another. In this regard, and based on all of the above, direct comparisons between situations, years, or violations should be undertaken with caution.
“Major humanitarian crises continue to unfold across West and Central Africa. The situation in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and multi-country emergencies, including crises in the Central Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region, are having devastating consequences on children and communities. Beyond consequences for the victims, grave violations of children’s rights are often accompanied by massive population displacements that increase the vulnerability of thousands of people and expose more children to other risks of violence,” Ms. Poirier said.
The report recommendations, based on the evidence and analysis presented, aim to mobilise all concerned stakeholders, including parties to conflict, states, and the UN Security Council, to effectively and sustainably protect children and to accelerate action at local, national, regional and global levels.
In addition to calling on parties to conflict, and states, to abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, the report includes recommendations on how to better provide adequate care and response services to children affected by conflict, including ways to improve data disaggregation and analysis for better response and prevention,
It also recommended on how to support Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMRs) to accelerate action, and improve CTFMR engagement with governments, while seeking ways to better engage with parties to conflict to develop Action Plans and sustainably protect children.