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United Nations findings on children and armed conflict

Recruited child holding a weapon Recruited child holding a weapon © ICRC

This article is a brief presentation of the report of the Secretary-General on Children and armed conflict

On 9 June 2020, after its 74th session, the Secretary-General (SG) of the United Nations (UN) issued a report presenting trends of the impacts of armed conflict on children and information on violations committed, in order to effect a change in behaviour by parties, while contributing to facilitating engagement with these parties, promoting accountability and including child protection issues in peace processes.

The report covers the period from January to December 2019 and thoroughly includes a list of violations and parties engaged in violations against children, namely their recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, abduction, as well as attacks on schools, hospitals and protected personnel.

The approach adopted by the SG’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, established with Security Council resolution 1612 of 2005, was pragmatic, aimed at ensuring broad and effective protection for children. In particular, the Special Representative urges the Governments to take remedial measures to address their responsibility towards child protection.

First, the report highlights the main findings verified by the UN over the period under consideration.

The UN reported over 25,000 grave violations against children, out of which more than half were committed by non-State actors, while government and international forces were responsible for the remaining percentage.

Specific data concerns approximately 7,747 children, some as young as 6, who were reportedly recruited and used. Again, 90 percent of violent acts were perpetrated  by non-State actors. Action plans to verify violations and release children were implemented by the United Nations and its partners. Notable decreases in recruitment and use of children occurred in Colombia and Iraq.

The highest verified violation remains the killing and maiming, with a total of 10,173 children, out of which 40% were killed and 60% maimed. The conflict in Afghanistan remained the deadliest occurrence  for children, with 67% increase in suicide and complex attacks affecting children. With the Rakhine State conflict in Myanmar, a threefold increase in child casualties has been registered.

The UN has also verified 442 attacks on schools and 433 attacks on hospitals, including protected persons. Overall, 503 of the compounded attacks were committed by State actors. Peaks were registered in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Afghanistan and Somalia. In addition, schools continue to be used for military purposes in Gaza and Israel, eroding children’s education rights.

Approximately 4,400 incidents resulting in denial of humanitarian access to children were imputed  to non-State actors. These incidents include violence against humanitarian workers and assets, with killings, assaults, arbitrary detentions, military use of humanitarian premises.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence only add up to 735, with many incidents unfortunately remaining unreported.

Finally, abductions of 1,638 children were verified, with over 95% of these perpetrated by non-State actors, mainly in Somalia.

Despite having separated a total of 13,200 children from non-State actors and armed forces globally in 2019, sustainable reintegration of these children must be gender-responsive, and must also include, among others, mental health and psychosocial support. Additionally, as peace remains the most powerful means to reduce violations against children, Governments and non-State actors should continue engaging in efforts relating to peace process.

In conclusion, a number of recommendations to address the abovementioned violations is outlined. First, the Secretary General welcomes the increased commitment of Governments and non-state actors to the protection of children, but draws their attention on the development and implementation of the UN action plans for the protection of children in armed conflict. He also calls upon the Security Council to ensure that child protection provisions are included in UN operations; second, the SG calls upon Member States to respect the rights of children, including through access to the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict; additionally, he calls for the adoption and implementation of legislation to criminalise grave violations against children; the SG calls upon all concerned Member States to treat children allegedly associated with armed forces or groups as victims; finally, he encourages all parties to allow safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to provide assistance to children.


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Author: Barbara Caltabiano; Editor: Gianmarco Italia

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