More than 18,900 children were victims during 2021 of one or more serious crimes against them in conflicts around the world, especially in the Lake Chad Basin and Central Sahel regions.
This is the conclusion of the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), which details that the total number of grave violations remains «alarmingly high,» totaling 23,982, a figure similar to that of 2020.
Throughout 2021, the most frequent crimes were murder and mutilation, followed by recruitment and use in combat and denial of humanitarian access. Sexual violence also increased by 20 percent over last year.
More than 8,000 children were killed or maimed, by explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices and mines, affecting some 2,257 children.
In addition, 6,310 children were recruited for armed conflict, while another 3,945 were denied humanitarian access, the report said.
The countries in which children were most frequently victims of grave human rights violations are Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Israel and Palestine, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. In addition, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine have been added to the Secretary-General’s Annual Report as «situations of concern,» reflecting the «dramatic impact» of hostilities on children in these areas.
Attacks on schools and hospitals also increased last year, according to the report, which states that more than 2,800 children were detained because of their real or suspected association with parties to a conflict, making them especially vulnerable to torture, sexual violence and other abuses.
In addition, CAAC notes that girls are increasingly affected by grave violations, accounting for up to 30 percent of all victims. In particular, the Lake Chad Basin region showed a significant increase in girls affected.
«Boys and girls often face different and changing risks in conflict situations, and the gender dimensions of grave violations against children in armed conflict,» said UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba.
SOME SIGNIFICANT ADVANCES Although the 2021 figures increased slightly from 2020, the CAAC shows that progress has also been made in certain contexts.
Specifically, 12,214 children were released from armed forces and groups in countries such as Central African Republic, Colombia, DRC, Burma and Syria.
For this reason, the Special Representative recalls that children released from armed forces and groups should benefit from «sustainable, gender- and age-sensitive reintegration support», calling on the international community to support «the development of long-term reintegration programs for all children».
According to Gamba, «engagement» with parties to conflict by the UN would have led to «remarkable progress» in the situation in some countries such as Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan and Yemen.
«When peace disappears, children are the first to pay the price for this tragic loss. Peace must prevail, as it is the only sustainable way to end and prevent grave violations against children in armed conflict,» the Special Representative hailed.
«I urge all parties to conflict, whether government forces or non-state armed groups, to immediately allow child protection experts and humanitarian actors access to carry out their life-saving work and to prioritize humanitarian access to children in armed conflict,» she added.