NEW YORK – More than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in armed conflict in 2018, the highest number since the United Nations started monitoring the issue.
There were around 24,000 violations committed last year in 20 conflict zones listed on the UN Children and Armed Conflict agenda, according to a UN report released on Tuesday.
Most of the deaths were caused by cross-fire, ERW (explosive remnants of war), IEDs, landmines and active combat.
“It is imperative that all parties to conflicts prioritize the protection of children,” Virginia Gamba, UN special representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a statement.
“This cannot wait: parties to conflict must take their responsibility to protect children and put in place tangible measures to end and prevent these violations.”
Somalia had the highest level of child soldier recruitment, with more than 7,000 children fighting at the battlefront, while Nigeria and Syria were in second and third place, respectively.
Somalia, together with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also had the highest levels of sexual violence against boys and girls, a blight that is still underreported in many countries due to the lack of support for victims.
In total, 933 cases of sexual violence against children were registered in 2018.
Child abduction remained a big threat within countries at war.
In many cases, kidnapped children were used in hostilities or for sexual violence.
“Nearly 2,500 children were verified as abducted in 2018, more than half of them in Somalia,” the UN said.
“While the verified attacks on schools and hospitals decreased globally (1,056), it significantly intensified in some conflict situations such as Afghanistan and in Syria, where the highest number of attacks was verified since the beginning of the conflict.”
The UN report also warned that lack of access to education was common practice in countries such as Mali, where 827 schools closed in December 2018 and around 244,000 children cannot go back to education.
Last year, the number of children who benefited from international support increased by 1,600, compared to 12,000 the previous year and more than 3,000 children were rescued from armed groups in DRC, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.
The UN urged the international community to demonstrate its commitment to preventing child rights violations.
“A preventive approach including through the development of national, subregional and regional prevention plans is the only way to ultimately limit the number of children victims of grave violations and ensure that protection frameworks are in place, not only in countries affected by conflict but also in their immediate region,” Gamba said.