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Five years on, West, Central Africa top violations against children recruits for armed banditry

For the past five years, West and Central Africa has recorded the highest number of children recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups.

This amounts to more than 42,000 violations between 2005 and 2020, according to a new UNICEF report.

“Over this same period, the region also ranks first – and worst – when it comes to numbers of rape and other forms of sexual violence committed against children, with more than 8,000 violations, says Karin Heissler, UNICEF regional chief of Child Protection in West and Central Africa.

West and Central Africa also has the second-highest number of abductions, according to a new UNICEF publication calling on partners to support and scale up documenting grave violations against children as well as preventing and responding to them.

Since 2016, West and Central Africa has recorded more than 21,000 children verified by the United Nations (UN) as recruited and used by armed forces and non-state armed groups, and more than 2,200 children victims of sexual violence. More than 3,500 children were abducted and more than 1,500 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals were recorded.

In 2005, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1612 to establish a United Nations mechanism for monitoring and reporting on the following six grave violations against children during armed conflict, and these include killing and maiming of children; recruitment and use of children; abduction of children; rape and other forms of sexual violence committed against children; attacks on schools and hospitals; and 6 denial of humanitarian access.

Since 2005, 1 out of 4 United Nations verified grave violations in the world was committed in West and Central Africa. Last year alone, over 6,400 children (32 per cent of whom were girls) were victims of one or more grave violations in the region.

“Whether children in West and Central Africa are the direct targets or collateral victims, they are caught up in conflict and face violence and insecurity. The grave violations of their rights perpetrated by parties to the conflicts are unacceptable. They have an adverse impact on their capacity to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the development of their communities and countries”, said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa.

“UNICEF calls on all parties to conflicts in the region to prevent and end grave violations against children, and to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable”.

Major humanitarian crises continue to unfold across West and Central Africa. The situation in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and multi-country emergencies, including crises in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin region, are having devastating consequences on children and communities.

Read also: 185 children in Nigeria die daily from pollution-related pneumonia -UNICEF

With a surge in armed conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.5 million children in West and Central Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that has almost doubled since 2020.

In response to the spike in children’s unmet essential needs, including protection, UNICEF has been working with governments, local authorities and partners to strengthen the monitoring and reporting mechanism, support the release and reintegration of children from armed forces and groups, reunite separated children with their families, provide medical and psychosocial care for conflict-affected children, and provide care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

“Mental health and psychosocial support for children and adolescents are essential and at the heart of UNICEF’s humanitarian response. When provided with the necessary care and psychosocial support, access to schooling and access to livelihoods, children are able to process what they have experienced and rebuild their lives”, noted Marie-Pierre Poirier.

Since 2015, over 4.3 million children have been reached with direct mental health and psychosocial support. Furthermore, also over that same period, more than 52,000 children associated with armed forces and groups were reached with support for community integration; nearly 65,000 children received support for family tracing and reunification; and nearly 183,000 women, girls and boys benefitted from interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence including case management, legal aid, health care, protection, education and life skills programmes.

Partners, including donors, must intensify their efforts to secure adequate financial and technical resources to ensure that grave violations are reported and verified. Information collected must be used for supporting and designing well-informed prevention and response programming, to protect children, their families and their communities.

The UNICEF publication also shares the story of Khady, an 18-year-old girl from Nigeria. She had wanted to be a doctor; her parents worked hard to send her and her sister to school. After an armed group abducted her sister, Khady dropped out of school due to the fear of the same thing happening to her. She then married someone when she was 15 years old and gave birth to twins. Her husband was killed by an armed group. She was then abducted by an armed group, raped and married against her will. She managed to run away after her third attempt; her sister and children have still not yet been released. This was her childhood. It is frighteningly mirrored across the region.

“Khady now participates in a programme providing psychosocial support and vocational training; she has learned to be a tailor and that is helping her to heal.

“For children like Khady, UNICEF is asking for five actions: All parties to conflict are called on to prevent and end grave violations against children and to ensure perpetrators are held accountable; Support and scale-up documenting grave violations against children. We need the data to establish accountability and to ensure we can respond to the affected children and their families and communities.

For those children recruited and used, we call for the quick transfer of children from armed forces to civilian authorities and child protection actors to receive appropriate assistance, as children and as victims.

Financial and human resources are needed to provide and scale-up quality, gender-sensitive services to support girls and women, including for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

We need an increase in multi-year flexible and predictable funding to support children in humanitarian settings to meet their immediate and longer-term needs, the agency said.

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