Children living in conflict zones all over the globe continue to be under attack, including widespread killings, abductions, sexual violence, and recruitment into armed bands and strikes on schools, hospitals, and essential water facilities.
The United Nations Security Council condemned six serious violations of children’s rights in times of war. These include: killing and maiming children, recruitment or use children in armed forces or armed groups, attacks on schools and hospitals, rape, other grave sexual violence, abduction, and denial of humanitarian access to children.
International humanitarian law requires that armies and armed groups take precautions to protect civilians during wartime, especially children.
1. Children killed and maimed
Direct targeting, indirect actions, such as torture, can result in the killing and maiming children. Crossfire, landmines and cluster munitions can be used to kill or maim children. They also work in conjunction with military operations such as house demolitions, search-and arrest campaigns or suicide attacks.
Children continue to suffer from the devastating effects of explosive weapons, especially in densely populated areas. At least 47 percent of child casualties in 2020 were caused by explosive weapons or explosive remnants from war. More than 104,100 children were killed or maimed during armed conflict situations between 2005 and 2020. This figure is more than twice the number that was verified in 2014.
2. Children recruited or used in armed forces and armed group recruitment
The recruitment or use of children within armed forces or armed groups is the forced, voluntary, or compulsory conscription or enlistment in any type of armed force. At alarming rates, children are still being recruited and used as combatants. Armed forces or armed group can use boys and girls in all capacities, including fighters, cooks or porters, messengers or spies.
More than 93,000 children were used and recruited by conflict parties between 2005 and 2020. However, the real number is likely to be higher. The UN Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting or an equivalent verified that at least 1,000 children were recruited and used in at least 15 countries during this time.
3. Attaques on hospitals and schools
Schools and hospitals are often attacked. These attacks can result in the destruction or partial destruction of schools and medical facilities. While schools and hospitals should be safe spaces where children can go even during conflict, the continued attacks on these facilities has highlighted the devastating impact of armed conflict on children’s rights, including education rights.
Between 2005 and 2020 the United Nations confirmed more than 13900 attacks on educational and medical facilities, protected persons and children.
These attacks are not only dangerous for children’s health, but they also affect their ability to learn and prevent them from accessing medical care. This can have a lasting impact on their education, their economic opportunities, and their overall health.
4. Violation or other serious forms of sexual violence
Rape and other serious sexual violence include acts of rape, sexual slavery, and/or trafficking. Sometimes, sexual violence can be used to humiliate or force people from their homes.
Between 2005 and 2020, at least 14200 children were raped, forced to marry, sexually exploited and suffered other serious forms of sexual violence by the parties to conflict. The stigma surrounding rape and other forms of sexual violence is so widespread that it is often not reported. Girls are particularly affected by sexual violence, with girls being victims in 97% of cases between 2016 and 2020.
5. Entrapment of children
The unlawful removal, seize, capture, apprehension or enforced disappearance (or abduction) of children is defined as the illegal taking, seizure or capture of, or forced disappearance, of a child, temporarily or permanently. Abduction can be committed in a variety of ways, including as a retaliation or intentional act of violence. It can also be used to recruit, sexually abuse, and forcibly remove children from their homes.
Between 2005 and 2020 at least 25,700 children were confirmed to have been abducted by conflict parties. Three quarters of all cases of child abductions were committed by boys. Girls are still at risk of being kidnapped, even for sexual violence or exploitation. Many times, abducted children are also victims to other grave violations like killing, maiming or sexual violence, and are recruited into armed groups. They could also be taken hostage or arbitrarily held.
6. Children denied humanitarian access
The intentional deprivation of humanitarian access to children is the impediment or intentional deprivation of humanitarian assistance essential to children’s survival by the conflict parties. This includes willfully hindering the ability of humanitarian and other relevant actors access to affected children in times of conflict.
At least 14,900 instances of denial of humanitarian accessibility for children were verified by the United Nations between 2005 and 2020. Eighty percent of these verified cases occurred from 2016 to 2020. This underscores the need to increase efforts to verify and document these incidents. Sometimes, warring parties prevent humanitarian workers from reaching the most vulnerable or deny aid to civilians. Humanitarian workers can also be targeted and considered threats to civilians, resulting in the denial of aid.