Scale of grave violations against children in conflict revealed in new Unicef report

The United Nations has verified more than 266,000 grave violations against children committed by parties to conflict in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, a new report has found.

Unicef said the figure is a fraction of the violations believed to have occurred, as access and security constraints, among other barriers, and the shame, pain and fear that child and family survivors suffer often hamper the reporting, documentation and verification of grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict.

The report, ‘25 years of children and armed conflict: Taking action to protect children in war’ found between 2005 and 2020, more than 104,100 children have been verified as killed or maimed in situations of armed conflict . More than 93,000 children have been verified as recruited and used by parties to conflict.

Meanwhile, people involved in conflict have raped, forcibly married, sexually exploited and committed other grave forms of sexual violence against at least 14,200 children. The United Nations verified more than 13,900 incidents of attacks against schools and hospitals and verified no fewer than 14,900 incidents of denial of humanitarian access for children since 2005.

Boys play cricket in front of a school that was damaged during the conflict between the Taliban and Afghanistan's former ruling government, in Kandahar in May. Incidents in Afghanistan account for 30 per cent of all verified occasions of violations against children in conflict situations. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

“This report lays out in the starkest possible terms the world’s failure to protect its children from grave violations during times of armed conflict,” said Unicef executive director Catherine Russell.

“Grave violations devastate children, families, and communities – and they tear at the fabric of society, making it even harder to restore and sustain peace, security and stability. We must refuse to accept violations against children as an unavoidable outcome of war.”

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Based on 16 years of data from the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, the report illustrates the impact that armed conflicts have had on children, by presenting trends of grave violations across the world and 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 – both State and non-State actors – enables ending and preventing grave violations.

The annual number of verified violations has gradually increased since 2005, surpassing 20,000 in a year for the first time in 2014 and reaching 26,425 in 2020.

Between 2016 and 2020, the daily global average of verified grave violations stood at 71 violations. The elevated number of violations observed in recent years demonstrates the dramatic impact that armed conflict – and increasingly complex and protracted protection crises – have on children.

The report notes many children suffer from more than one violation, increasing their vulnerability.

Between 2016 and 2020, 82 per cent of all verified child casualties – or about 41,900 children – occurred in only five locations. These were Afghanistan, which accounted for 30 per cent of incidents, Israel and the State of Palestine, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

Ms Russell said: “Unicef and our partners will not waver in our work to prevent grave violations against children. With more children affected by conflict, violence and crises now than at any time since the Second World War, this work has never been more urgent.”

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