The tragedy of boys and girls used and abused in, for and by armed conflict continued unabated during 2019, as the UN verified over 25,000 grave violations against children including late verification, highlighted the latest Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict released today. The overall number of grave violations remains similar to the number reported in 2018 and represents some 70 violations per day.
"The childhood of these boys and girls has been replaced by pain, brutality and fear while the world watches. Parties to conflict neglect to protect children in the conduct of hostilities and deny them the vital aid they desperately need. By violating the rules of war, parties endanger their own children", said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba.
The most shocking increase (more than 400%) is seen in the denial of humanitarian access to children, with 4,400 verified incidents. The report highlights violence against humanitarian workers and impediments to their work, the looting of supplies and restrictions of movement, among the many disruptions in the provision of basic assistance to children. Yemen, Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Israel and the State of Palestine and Syria are the most concerning situations.
The lack of respect for the civilian character of schools and hospitals remained also extremely concerning, with 927 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals and their protected persons verified, mainly in Afghanistan, Israel and State of Palestine and Syria. Overall, millions of children were deprived of education and health care as a direct result of attacks, misuses or because of school closures and/or due to military use.
Boys and girls continued to endure sexual violence with 735 cases verified, however the violation is vastly underreported. The largest verified numbers correspond to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia and the Central African Republic. Factors such as impunity for perpetrators, and lack of access to justice, fear of stigma and lack of services for survivors, are largely the cause of under-reporting.
"I call on all parties to conflict to immediately prioritize humanitarian access to children and vulnerable populations in situations of armed conflict, and to allow child protection experts and humanitarians to do their work. I commend the courage and dedication of these humanitarian professionals and call on all Member States to support the work of child protection actors in the field," said the Special Representative.
The report also notes that the cross-border nature of conflict remained of concern, including in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin regions. To address the plight and vulnerability of those boys and girls, the Secretary-General will include two new situations of concern in his next Report on CAAC: Burkina Faso and Cameroon. The Special Representative and her Office stand ready to continue to support efforts to protect children in the regions.
The situation of children detained for their actual or alleged association with parties to conflict, including possible associations with UN designated terrorist groups, remained alarming with over 2,500 children detained. The Special Representative reminds that children must be treated primarily as victims, and detention used only as a measure of last resort, for the shortest period and alternatives to detention actively sought. She further calls on all concerned Member States to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of children stranded in camps in Iraq and Syria to their countries of origin or to the countries of origin of their parents.
Despair vs Hope: Children Trapped in Conflict Dynamics
Though still high, the overall number of children killed or maimed decreased to more than 10,000 including late verification (12,014 in 2018), with Afghanistan remaining the deadliest country for children, followed by Syria and Yemen. One out of four child casualties were caused by ERW, IEDs or landmines, underscoring the responsibility of parties and governments in securing and clearing these deadly weapons.
The recruitment and use of children (more than 7,000), although lower than 2018 if we distinguish late verifications, is still concerning. Most cases were perpetrated by non-State actors in the DRC, Somalia and Syria. As regards to governmental actors, the Special Representative reiterates her call on Member States that have not yet ratified OPAC to do so, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Optional Protocol.
Lastly, some 1,683 children (vs 2,493 in 2018) were abducted, notably for the purpose of recruitment and sexual abuse, with the highest verified cases in Somalia, DRC and Nigeria.
Progress, as in some lower violations, resulted from the United Nations' continued engagement with parties to conflict on action plans and commitments. These included measures such as laws on child protection, justice for victims and greater access for child protection actors to release recruited children. During 2019, over 30 action plans, roadmaps, command orders and other measures to protect children were taken by parties to conflict with the engagement of the United Nations, many of which led to the separation of children from ranks.
Ending the cycle of violence for children in armed conflict also requires providing comprehensive reintegration programmes including education, psychosocial support, health and jobs. The Special Representative calls on the International Community to continue to support reintegration efforts, including through the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers.
Enhanced prevention efforts have benefited children during 2019, leading to the release or separation of over 13,200 children from armed forces or armed groups. Such efforts include regional engagement for peace in line with Security Council resolution 2427 (2018) and political willingness of parties to engage in peace dialogue and declare ceasefires. "Governments and non-State actors in a quarter of the situations on the CAAC agenda, such as Afghanistan, CAR, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar and Yemen, are engaged in some peace processes. I encourage all parties engaged in such dialogues to integrate child protection considerations in their discussions and agreements, as it can contribute to sustainable peace," urged the Special Representative.
She added that the Practical Guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflicts, launched in early 2020, remains a crucial tool to support that endeavor. "Peace remains the most powerful means to reduce violations against children. I echo once again the Secretary-General's call for a global ceasefire, not only as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but beyond, as children in armed conflict and their families urgently need peace -- and the protection that comes with it," she added.
For additional information, please contact:
Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict\ +1-212-963-5986 (office) / +1-917-288-5791 (mobile) / email@example.com
 The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.