UN report documents horrors faced by children in conflict zones

  • 30 Jul 2019

Despite committing grave violations, certain countries responsible for war crimes against children have been omitted from the UN Secretary-General’s new ‘list of shame’ report, Human Rights Watch says.

( AP )

Killed, maimed or forced to become child soldiers.

A newly released annual United Nations (UN) report titled, Children and Armed Conflict highlights how wars continue to devastate the lives of children in conflict zones.

According to the report, more than 12,000 children were killed and injured in armed conflicts last year, a record number, with Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine and Syria topping the casualty list.

The deaths and injuries were among more than 24,000 ‘grave violations' against children verified by the UN. 

A child injured in a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike rests in a hospital in Saada, Yemen, on August 12, 2018.(AP)

These included the recruitment and use of youngsters by combatants, sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals.

The report says although the number of violations by armed groups remained steady, there was ‘an alarming increase' in the number of violations by governments and international forces compared to 2017.

But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ long-awaited blacklist of countries that stand accused of committing severe violations remained virtually unchanged from last year, angering many human rights groups.

They pointed out that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen remained on the list of parties that have put in place measures to protect children, despite the rise in child casualties.

An activist places flowers among 5,000 flowers on the West Front of the Capitol that they said are to memorialize 5,000 children killed by Saudi bombings in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2018.(AP)

“The Saudi-led coalition since 2015 has committed appalling violations against children in Yemen without any evidence that it’s trying to improve its record,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN Director at Human Rights Watch.

“By including them once again in the ‘not so bad’ category of serious reformers, the secretary-general makes a mockery of the whole exercise.”

The report also blamed Israel for killing 59 Palestinian children and injuring 2,756 in 2018, the highest number since 2014. Six Israeli children were injured during the same period. 

However, Israel was not blacklisted.

Since monitoring began in 2005, "verified cases of the killing and maiming of children” reached record levels in 2018, according to the UN’s Guterres.

Afghanistan and Syria topped the list of countries with the most child casualties in armed conflict. 

In 2018, Afghanistan had 3,062 child casualties and children accounted for 28 percent of all civilian casualties, while in Syria, barrel bombs and cluster munitions killed and injured 1,854 youngsters.

“In Yemen, 1,689 children bore the brunt of ground fighting and other offensives,” the report said.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that Israeli forces, US-led international forces in Afghanistan, and the Afghan National Army were left off in Guterres’ ‘list of shame’, and that the Somali National Army received ‘credit’ for protecting children even though its violations increased.

More than 2,000 children, some as young as eight years old were recruited by parties to the conflict in Somalia, with Al Shabab increasing its recruitment to 1,865.

YPG continues to recruit child soldiers 

The report revealed that the terrorist PKK group’s Syrian affiliate, YPG, recruited over 300 children and has also used schools as training grounds and ammunition depots in the region.

Nearly 40 percent of children recruited by terror groups were girls younger than 15 years old. 24 schools and hospitals were used as training grounds and 14 schools as ammunition depots.

Despite this, the US has been supporting the YPG with military provisions and training.

Earlier in July, Virginia Gamba, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflicts, met YPG leader Mazlum Abdi, also known as Ferhad Abdi Sahin or Sahin Cilo. 

The YPG commander is on Turkey's most-wanted list.

The two signed an agreement in Geneva that aimed to end the use and recruitment by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the YPG, of individuals under the age of 18.

The meeting drew criticism from Ankara.

Human Rights Watch says the 29 cases of child soldiers they identified are likely a drop in the bucket of the true rates of child recruitment. (File Photo)(TRTWorld)

"The signing of an agreement by the UN, which should be at the forefront in the fight against terror, with a terrorist organisation cannot be explained in any way. This is also a clear violation of the UN's own decisions on terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said.

The YPG has a history of using child soldiers in its ranks. The group tricks families into giving up their children or kidnaps them, taking them to training camps.

Some are even exposed to drugs, so they can be used as suicide bombers or to fight on the front lines later.