Over 42,000 children recruited in West, Central African armed conflicts – UNICEF

Over 42,000 children have been recruited and used in armed conflicts in West and Central Africa, according to a new report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday.

The UNICEF report titled “25 years of children and armed conflict: Taking action to protect children in war”, found that these violations against children in both regions occurred between 2005 and 2020.

It also revealed that more than 7,600 children have been killed or maimed in situations of armed conflict; at least 4,800 children abducted by parties to conflicts; while more than 8,000 children raped, forcibly married, sexually exploited, and suffered other gave forms of sexual violence.

The report found that grave violations against children were committed by states and non-state actors and underscored the importance of engagement with all parties to conflicts, to meaningfully end and prevent violations against children.

It noted that West/Central Africa was the region with the second-highest number of verified violations since 2005 with more than 67,000 verified grave violations, accounting for a quarter of all violations globally.

In Nigeria, the report revealed that there were 391 verified cases of grave violations against 306 children. UNICEF had observed worrisome levels of insecurity in Northern Nigeria with children being among the hardest hit, especially within the period under review.

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“These violations mainly occurred in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States and were attributed to ISWAP and other armed groups. This is a 56 percent increase in the number of grave violations against children (208) verified in 2020,” the report read.

It noted that many children suffer from more than one violation, increasing their vulnerability.

For example, the report pointed out that abduction was often combined with or leads to other violations, particularly recruitment and use and sexual violence; and children – especially girls – who have been abducted and/or associated with parties to the conflict are exposed to elevated risks of sexual violence, including rape, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.

“Behind each of the violations detailed in the report is a child, his or her family and members of a community whose lives are torn apart, sometimes forever. We cannot remain indifferent and silent. The killing, abduction, and rape of girls and boys are horrific crimes,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa said.

“The increase in verified grave violations in the Central Sahel over the last quarter and their devastating impact on the wellbeing of children shows the need and importance of continuing our efforts to provide care to the victims and advocate for their immediate end. Attacks on civilians, including children, must be stopped and all measures for their protection, including during military operations, must be taken,” Poirier added.

Based on 16 years of data from the secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict, the report illustrated the impact that armed conflicts have had on children, by presenting trends of grave violations across the world and over time.

The report also examined how information on the documented patterns of grave violations was being used to respond to children’s needs and how engagement with parties to conflicts – state and non-state actors alike – enables ending and preventing grave violations.

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