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UN says grave violations against children remains “alarmingly high” at nearly 26,500, while the pandemic increased their vulnerability to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals.

UN in its annual report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), published on Monday said no fewer than 19,300 boys and girls affected by war in 2020 were victims of grave violations.

The report is entitled “A Stolen Childhood and a Future to Repair: Vulnerability of Girls and Boys in Armed Conflict Exacerbated by COVID-19 Pandemic.”

It stated that they were victims of grave violations such as recruitment or rape, and the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for experts to reach them.

Measures to curtail coronavirus spread, also complicated the work of UN child protection monitors and experts.

Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on CAAC, said, “The wars of adults have taken away the childhood of millions of boys and girls again in 2020.

“This is completely devastating for them, but also for the entire communities they live in, and destroys chances for a sustainable peace,’’ she said.

Recruitment and use, as well as killing and maiming of children, were the most prevalent violations in 2020, followed by denial of humanitarian access and abduction, the report said.

More than 8,400 youngsters were killed or maimed in ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, while nearly 7,000 more were recruited and used in fighting, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Syria and Myanmar.

Researchers reported “exponential growth” in abductions, which rose by a staggering 90 per cent in 2020 while rape and other forms of sexual violence also shot up by 70 per cent.

Meanwhile, attacks on schools and hospitals “remained excessively high”, which included serious attacks perpetrated against girls’ education and against health facilities and personnel.

There was also an increase in the military use of schools, as the temporary closure of schools during the pandemic made them easy targets for military occupation and use.

The report further revealed that girls made up a quarter of all child victims of grave violations.

“They also were mostly affected by rape and other forms of sexual violence, comprising 98 per cent of victims, followed by killing and maiming.’’

In addition, Gamba said if boys and girls experienced conflict differently and require interventions to better address their specific needs, what the data also showed is that conflict doesn’t differentiate based on gender.

In spite of the sobering statistics, the report also details tangible progress in dialogues with warring parties in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan and Syria.

Some 35 new commitments or other engagement were reached in 2021 to better protect children, including two new action plans signed in Myanmar and South Sudan.

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Additionally, armed groups and forces freed more than 12,643 children from their ranks following UN engagement.

Many more boys and girls were spared from recruitment due to age screening processes in situations where the UN has action plans with governments to stop child recruitment and use.

The report stated, however, that progress has taken place as child protection capacities on the ground are both overstretched and underfunded.

Gamba praised teams working in the field throughout the pandemic, and in challenging environments to ensure peace and protection of children.

She underlined the need to secure resources for child protection at a time of extreme suffering for children, given the many setbacks in democratic processes at the beginning of this year, and the rise in violence between warring sides.

“This is an opportunity to stop and reflect on the suffering we are causing our children, who are our future.

“We need to give children an alternative to violence and abuse: we need peace, respect for child rights and democracy.

“We need hope in good governance. We need to act to build a future where peace prevails. Please, give children that alternative,’’ the senior UN official said. (NAN)