Armed conflict, inter-communal violence and insecurity continued to take a devastating toll on thousands of children throughout 2021, said the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The year brought a spate of grave violations against children in both protracted and new conflicts. From Afghanistan to Yemen, and Syria to northern Ethiopia, thousands of children paid a devastating price as armed conflict, inter-communal violence, and insecurity continued, the agency added.
The UN body highlighted last week’s incident in Kayah state in eastern Myanmar, where four children were reportedly among the victims of an attack that killed at least 35 people, including two Save the Children staff.
In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, year after year, parties to the conflict continue to demonstrate a dreadful disregard for the rights and wellbeing of children. “Children are suffering, and children are dying because of this callousness. Every effort should be made to keep these children safe from harm,” she added.
Data is not yet available for this year, but the UN verified 26,425 grave violations against children in 2020. The first three months of 2021 saw a slight decrease in the overall number of these grave violations but verified cases of abduction and sexual violence continued to rise at alarming rates by more than 50 and 10 per cent, respectively.
Verified abductions were highest in Somalia, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger). On the other hand, verified instances of sexual violence were highest in the DRC, Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The year 2021 marked a quarter of a century since the publication of Graça Machel’s seminal Impact of war on children report, which urged the UN and international community to take action. Over the past 16 years, the UN has verified 2,66,000 cases of grave violations against children in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. While these cases were verified through the 2005 UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, the actual figures are most likely much higher, according to UNICEF.
Afghanistan, for example, has the highest number of verified child casualties since 2005. With more than 28,500 incidents, the country accounts for 27 per cent of all verified child casualties globally.
Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa have the highest number of verified attacks on schools and hospitals, with 22 verified in the first six months of the year. In October, UNICEF said that 10,000 children had been killed or maimed in Yemen since fighting escalated in March 2015 – the equivalent of four youngsters every day.
The persistent and growing threat of explosive weapons, particularly in populated areas is one challenge. In 2020, explosive weapons and remnants of war were responsible for nearly 50 per cent of all child casualties, resulting in more than 3,900 children killed and maimed.
Another challenge is children often fall victim to multiple grave rights violations. Last year, 37 per cent of abductions were verified by the UN-led to the recruitment and use of children in war – surpassing 50 per cent in Somalia, DRC and CAR.
UNICEF called for all conflict parties to commit to formal action plans. Since 2005, only 37 of such plans have been signed by parties to the conflict, which UNICEF called “a shockingly low number given the stakes for children”.