Children living amidst armed conflict continue to suffer various grave violations in silence. With the ongoing covid-19 pandemic adding more oil to the fire, these kids are now more vulnerable than ever. Thus, according to a UN report, the number of children suffering from abduction, recruitment, and sexual violence is “alarmingly high.”
A Stolen childhood
Not only did the conflict rob children living in war-torn countries from their childhood, but it also crushed their hopes for a better future. The report verified at least 26,425 child grave violations taking place in 2020. Moreover, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Syria, and Yemen recorded the highest numbers of violations.
“Escalation of conflict, armed clashes, and disregard for international humanitarian law and international human rights law had a severe impact on the protection of children,” the report stated.
The UN also reported that recruitment and use of children recorded the highest of the violations with 8,521 child-recruiting, then killing, followed by maiming. Furthermore, abduction incidents increased in 2020 to reach 90 percent, while sexual violence against children rose to 70 percent. According to the report, cases of abduction are often coupled with the “recruitment and use of children and sexual violence,” including rape.
“Children can no longer be the last priority of the international agenda nor the least protected group of individuals on the planet,” Virginia Gamba, U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, told reporters Monday at the report’s launch. “We need to give children an alternative to violence and abuse. We need peace, respect for children’s rights, and democracy.”
The direct link between Covid-19, infrastructure, and grave violations
The report also highlighted Covid-19’s role in increasing the violations, stating “aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children, including by hampering their access to education, health, and social services, limiting child protection activities and shrinking safe spaces.” With the pandemic forcing schools to close their doors, education institutions turned into military occupation sites. Thus, instead of providing children with sanctuary, schools turned into target places for armed forces.
Additionally, 2020 witnessed the horrific prevalence of schools’ and hospitals’ attacks. These incidents reached a total of almost 856, mainly taking place in Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, and Burkina Faso. Such attacks particularly targeted girls’ education facilities, health facilities, and both of their staff.
“The wars of adults have taken away the childhood of millions of boys and girls again in 2020,” added Virginia Gamba. “This is completely devastating for them, but also for the entire communities they live in, and destroys chances for a sustainable peace.”
Despite the report’s important role in shedding light on crucial data regarding the issue, several human rights groups are criticizing the UN’s decision to neglect to add some countries to the “offending list”. According to them, the political double standards in listing the annual UN blacklist are allowing some offending countries to escape accountability. Thus, such countries are avoiding public scrutiny while continuing to allow the abuse of vulnerable children.
“We strongly urge the (U.N.) Secretary-General to reconsider his decision and hold parties to conflict all over the world to the same standard,” urged Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said in a statement.
“Secretary-General (Antonio) Guterres is letting warring parties implicated in the deaths and maiming of children off the hook by leaving Israel, the Saudi-led coalition (in Yemen) and other violators off his ‘list of shame,'” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “His repeated failure to base his list on the U.N.’s own evidence betrays children and fuels impunity.”
According to UN recordings, the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition caused the death and maiming of at least 194 children in Yemen in 2020. Yet, the coalition is still to face any consequence for their part in the children’s suffering. Similarly, the same UN data also report Isreal’s 1,031 grave violations against 340 Palestinians and three Israeli children. Still, Israel wasn’t added to the list.
Furthermore, Save the Children also noted the absence of Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine from the list despite their part in cousin grave violations to children.
As a response to the criticism, Gamba stated that the UN will address the Israeli violations in the next annual report. Nonetheless, she explained that she didn’t endure any political pressure from the mentioned countries regarding the blacklist.