Serious violations suffered by children during conflicts

A boy and a girl walking barefoot on a sand ground. A boy and a girl walking barefoot on a sand ground. © Photo by Ruslanshug on Istock.

This article is a brief presentation of the report "KILLED AND MAIMED: A generation of violations against children in conflict," by Save the Children.

According to the United Nations (UN), 93,236 children have been killed or maimed in the last decade as a result of armed conflict. This according to a new report by Save the Children, which is part of a series called "Stop the War on Children". Save the Children International is an independent international organization that has been working for years to improve the future of children through the implementation of development programs and response to major emergencies. The aim of this report is to highlight the serious violations to which children are subjected during armed conflicts, and in particular to highlight the devastating impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. 

The largest number of child violations occurred in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. In fact, 26,233 violations were certified in 2019, marking an increase compared to the data gathered in 2018. Generally, these incidents are not isolated, but on the contrary are strongly interconnected. In this regard, child abductions turn out to be a starting point for subsequent serious violations, such as recruitment or sexual abuse. Regarding recruitment by armed forces, Save the Children points out that, of the 7,845 total cases recorded in 2019, 66% occurred in African countries. In fact, 3,107 cases were ascertained in the DRC alone, the highest number ever recorded for a single country. 

According to the report, data on incidents of sexual violence against children represent only a portion of the actual cases; this problem stems from the difficulty of monitoring and reporting this particular type of violation. However, in 2019, according to Save the Children, there were 749 verified incidents of abuse, 98% of which were perpetrated against girls. Additional violations include attacks on service delivery structures, such as schools and hospitals, and restrictions on access to humanitarian aid. In particular, the latter have undergone a six-fold increase in 2019, compared to the previous year, reaching 4,402 episodes, the highest number ever recorded, as highlighted by Save the Children.  

Although not among the serious violations, child detention is also an extremely serious and complex widespread phenomenon. A total of 2,530 cases of detention for alleged or actual association with armed groups were recorded in 2019, with Iraq in particular counting the highest number of children detained, with about 984 cases, followed then by Palestine, Somalia and Syria. 

Finally, according to the UN, one of the most harmful tools for children are explosive weapons. More than a third of the 10,294 confirmed killings and mutilations in 2019 were caused by these types of devices, which in addition to having a devastating physical, emotional and social impact on children, contribute to increasing already existing vulnerabilities.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to adding instability to the already precarious conditions of those living areas affected by armed conflicts. Among the most alarming effects of the pandemic is an increase in food insecurity, domestic violence and lack of access to education, in fact, according to Save the Children's report, an estimated 10 million children may never return to school.

What emerges from this report is that the response to violations committed against children during armed conflict must include strong political action to strengthen accountability mechanisms for perpetrators and to reaffirm compliance with norms and laws that protect children. Save the Children International CEO Inger Ashing denounced the lack of collective action for the safeguard of children from harm in armed conflict, despite growing awareness of the violations perpetrated. In this regard, the organization urges States, donors and all local, regional and national actors to ensure greater commitment and financial resources in humanitarian intervention in order to ensure effective support for children and their families, and calls on governments to cease the use of explosive weapons on children by limiting their sale.


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Author: Francesca Mencuccini; Editor: Carla Leonetti

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