Children suffering ‘atrocities’ as number of countries in conflict hits new peak: UNICEF

© UNICEF/Thomas Nybo 6 year old Rohingya refugee, Yasin, rests after arriving at a registration center for newly arrived Rohingya Refugees in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on 6 February 2018. His father says that they fled to Bangladesh after soldiers in Myanmar came to their house and beat his son when he was unable to tell them of his whereabouts.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

The world “has failed” to sufficiently protect children caught up in conflict and millions more are at risk of harm, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed on Friday, adding that national leaders need to hold perpetrators of violence more accountable.

The agency’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, said that “children living in conflict zones around the world have continued to suffer through extreme levels of violence over the past 12 months, and the world has continued to fail them.”

Today, more countries are involved in conflict than at any other time in the past three decades.

Parties to conflicts “have been committing atrocities with near-total impunity, and it is only getting worse,” he added. “Much more can and must be done to protect and assist children.”

A closer examination shows grave human rights abuses in countries at war; including using children as human shields, and recruiting them to fight – two of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the Security Council in 2005.

Rape, forced marriage and abduction have become “standard tactics” in Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Myanmar, UNICEF has said; while the killing and maiming of children due to conflict has continued unabated.

The numbers

  • Five thousand children in Afghanistan were either killed or maimed within the first three-quarters of 2018. Children there make up 89 percent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded shells, mortars or grenades.
  • Violent uprisings this year in Cameroon’s north-west and south-west areas, have often targeted schools, students and teachers. Eighty people were abducted from one school alone in November, and 93 villages to date have been destroyed due to conflict.
  • Two out of three children in the Central African Republic need humanitarian assistance; many have been displaced, separated from their parents, and live in a state of chronic malnutrition.
  • Rohingya refugees in Myanmar – including many children – face widespread restrictions to their movement, hampering access to health and education services in central Rakhine State.
  • In Somalia, more than 1,800 children were recruited by parties to the conflict within the first nine months of the year. The number abducted were 1,278.
  • A crumbling education system in Eastern Ukraine has forced 700,000 boys and girls to learn in dangerous and fragile conditions; sitting in classrooms pock-marked with bullet holes and playing in schoolyards with unexploded ordnance.

UNICEF published these findings along with other statistics demonstrating how conflict is depleting children’s livelihoods and the possibility of a prosperous future.

Helping increase protection

Warring parties must immediately abide by international law to end violations against children, UNICEF has urged, in a plea to end this “moral crisis of our age.”

“Children living through conflict are among the least likely to be guaranteed their rights. Attacks on children must end,” Mr. Fontaine said, reminding the international community that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the rights of children to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

UNICEF is working to deliver lifesaving aid to the world’s most vulnerable children; including health, education and protection services, and water, nutrition and sanitation supplies.

With the agency’s help:

  • 833 children recruited into armed forces in Nigeria were released in October.
  • 6,000 separated or unaccompanied children in South Sudan have been reunited with their families since conflict broke out five years ago.
  • Thousands of Rohingya refugee children have received psychosocial support and mental health.
  • And in Iraq, UNICEF is working to develop services for women and children affected by gender-based violence.

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