Violations against children in conflict reach ‘extreme levels’, UN says

Violence in ‘escalating conflicts’, including Gaza, reach new heights in 2023, according to UN report.

Palestinian children wounded in an Israeli attack are carried on stretchers into the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip [Abed Khaled/Reuters]Published On 13 Jun 202413 Jun 2024

Violence against children caught in multiplying and escalating conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023 with an unprecedented number of killings and injuries, including in the occupied Palestinian territory, a United Nations report has found.

Children were “killed and maimed in unprecedented numbers in devastating crises”, notably in the Gaza Strip, according to the report released by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday.

Keep reading

list of 3 itemsend of list

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report found “a shocking 21 percent increase in grave violations” against children under the age of 18 in an array of conflicts, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Syria.

The UN verified 30,705 violations against children in 2023, affecting more than 15,800 boys and 6,250 girls. Some were subjected to multiple violations, the report said.

While armed groups were responsible for almost 50 percent of the grave violations, it said, “government forces were the main perpetrator of the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.”

For the first time, the UN report put Israeli forces on its blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights over the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It listed the armed groups Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the first time as well.

In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in 2023, the report said, 5,698 grave violations against children were attributed to Israeli forces, 116 to Hamas, 58 to unidentified perpetrators, 51 to Israeli settlers, 21 to Islamic Jihad, 13 to Palestinian individuals and one to Palestinian Authority security forces.

It said the process of verifying the attribution of 2,051 other violations was ongoing.

The Hamas-led October 7 attacks on southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza have led to a surge in grave violations against children, especially from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Gaza, the report said.

In the Gaza Strip alone, the report said, the UN verified the killings of 2,141 Palestinian children. It said, however, that about 9,100 children were reported killed in the territory “and verification is ongoing”.

Overall in the Palestinian territories, it said, “some 19,887 Palestinian children were reported killed or maimed and the reports are pending verification.”

The magnitude of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza “and the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip have been unprecedented”, Guterres said, reiterating calls for Israel to abide by international law and ensure civilians are not targeted and that excessive force is not used.

The UN chief said he is “appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, despite my repeated calls for parties to implement measures to prevent grave violations”.

‘Denial of humanitarian access’

Sudan – where a war between rival generals has been raging since April 2023 – witnessed “a staggering 480 percent increase in grave violations against children”, the report said.

The Sudanese military and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces were added to the blacklist for killing and injuring youngsters and attacking schools and hospitals. The paramilitary was also cited for recruiting and using children in military operations and for rape and sexual violence.

By the end of 2023, Guterres said, the UN had verified 1,721 grave violations against 1,526 children in Sudan.

“I am appalled by the dramatic increase in grave violations,” he said, especially the recruitment, killing and maiming of children as well as sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

A growing civil conflict in Myanmar also saw a 123 percent increase in grave violations against children, and the Myanmar armed forces, related militias and seven armed groups were included on the blacklist.

The report said the UN verified 2,799 grave violations against 2,093 children, including 238 killings and 623 injuries attributed to the military and its allied militias.

The UN kept the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups on its blacklist for a second year over the killing and maiming of children in Ukraine and attacks on schools and hospitals there.

The UN verified the killing of 80 Ukrainian children and maiming of 419 by Russian forces and their affiliates last year, mostly from explosive weapons, the report said.

Virginia Gamba, the secretary-general’s special representative on children and armed conflict, said one of the “disturbing” trends found was the continued use of schools and hospitals for military purposes by parties to conflict.

“I urge all parties to conflict to stop the military use of schools and to ensure hospitals retain their protected status,” Gamba said, speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

She said the UN reported 5,205 verified incidents of the denial of humanitarian access to children, which is “an unacceptably high figure, representing a 32 percent increase over previous years”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies