Children Affected by Armed Conflict


Children Affected by Armed Conflict

17 Dec 2014

As images of children affected by conflict continue to fill our screens, including the horrific attack on a school in Pakistan, and on a school bus in Yemen, the United Nations recently published the Annual Report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, finding that children were caught up in 23 conflict situations around the world in 2013.

The Secretary General submits a report annually to the United Nations Security Council. The  Annual Report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict for 2013 was published on 1 July 2014 and highlights global trends regarding the impact of armed conflict on children in 2013. The report documents the cases where children have been recruited and used by national armies and armed groups, but also suggests that there has been progress in some countries.

Some countries saw an increasing number of children killed as a result of armed conflict in 2013

This latest report recognises Boko Haram in Nigeria as a new party on the list of the Secretary General for attacks against schools. It also highlights how children in Somalia are suffering from the consequences of conflict, as well the increased number of children killed as a result of conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. The Central African Republic also saw the growth of children recruited into conflict.

The United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said: "What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity."

This report comes as UNICEF condemned the actions of ISIS militants, who's assault on Sinjar City in Iraq caused the deaths of 40 Yazidi children "as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration". It has been suggested that the Yazidi minority are the subject of particular persecution by ISIS because of the community's ancient beliefs.

Key Findings
  • Armed conflict continued to have a disproportionate impact on children. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas or attacks directly targeting civilians, through explosive weapons, air strikes or the use of terror tactics, took a worrisome toll on children. In 2013, the United Nations observed a significant spike in the killing and maiming of children in several situations, including in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • The reporting period witnessed a deepening of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, where intensifying hostilities led to widespread grave violations against children and a worsening humanitarian crisis. In the Central African Republic, the recruitment and use of children became endemic throughout 2013 and increased with the surge in violence that has plagued the country since mid-September. With the resumption of conflict in South Sudan, pro-Government and opposition forces reportedly used children on a large scale and committed other grave violations;
  • The situation in northern Nigeria became of grave concern. While the humanitarian situation affecting at least half of the population living in north-eastern Nigeria remained critical, the extremist group known as Boko Haram intensified attacks on schools, resulting in the killing and maiming of children and other grave violations;
  • The recruitment and use of children in conflict remained prevalent. More than 4,000 cases were documented by the United Nations in 2013, but thousands more children are estimated to have been recruited and used. Impunity for grave violations against children, in particular sexual violence, is common to several situations and exacerbates even further the vulnerability of children. The detention of children for alleged association with armed groups or on security charges, highlighted as a concern in my previous annual report, continued in 17 of the 23 situations considered in the present report;
  • These and other worrisome trends during the reporting period call for a redoubling of efforts to better implement available tools to address the plight of children affected by armed conflict. Concrete and pragmatic measures must lead the way. The United Nations, and in particular my Special Representative, have sent a strong message in 2013 that efforts are being made to step up to the challenge.
Selected Country Situations

Afghanistan: Although the recruitment and use of children remained underreported owing to security constraints, the United Nations documented the recruitment and use of 97 children (all boys), as young as eight years of age. The majority of the children (72) were reportedly recruited and used by armed opposition groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Nine of the children were recruited to conduct suicide attacks. Children were also recruited to manufacture and plant improvised explosive devices, as combatants and for other roles, including as sex slaves. At least 545 children were killed and 1,149 injured in 790 documented incidents. Child casualties increased by 30 per cent in 2013 compared with 2012. Armed opposition groups, including the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami, were responsible for a majority (889) of the recorded child casualties. The use of improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks, including by boys in at least two instances, resulted in the killing of 229 children and in injury to 396 others.

Central African Republic: Throughout 2013, the human rights situation worsened dramatically, with a multiplication and shifting of alliances of armed groups. In some cases, the militias were associated with elements of the former Central African Armed Forces. Tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities were exacerbated by increasing clashes between the ex-Séléka and the anti-Balaka. Both the anti-Balaka and the Séléka coalition, prior and after its dismantlement, systematically recruited and used children. The United Nations documented the recruitment and use of 171 boys and 17 girls, and estimates that several thousand children have been and remain associated with the ex-Séléka and the anti-Balaka. The progressive deterioration of the security environment also led to the re-recruitment of children. Hundreds of children are estimated to have been killed or maimed by machetes, firearms and other weaponry. The United Nations verified the killing of 27 children and the maiming of 115 others. Most documented incidents occurred in the context of the unconstitutional change of power on 24 March 2013 and the December attacks by the anti-Balaka on ex-Séléka positions in Bangui. The latter resulted in the death of an estimated 1,000 civilians, including many children.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: On 24 February 2013, as a result of international and regional mediation efforts, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region was signed in Addis Ababa by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 10 regional countries as well as four international organisations. However, hostilities between the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) continued until the military defeat of M23 in November. The United Nations documented 910 children (783 boys and 127 girls), who had been newly recruited and used by armed groups. At least 68 children were killed in 2013, compared with 154 documented cases in 2012; and at least 96 were maimed, compared with 113 documented cases in 2012. 

Iraq: 2013 was marked by a significant increase in the number of security incidents, resulting in the killing of 7,818 civilians, including at least 248 children. This is the highest number of casualties reported since 2008. The most affected governorates were Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar, Wassit and Salahaddin. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQ-I) were allegedly responsible for most of the documented incidents. According to the Government, 335 children were killed and 1,326 others injured in 2013. The United Nations, in 167 verified incidents, recorded 248 children killed and 665 others injured, including as a result of improvised explosive devices and in complex attacks. AQ-I was reportedly responsible for most of the incidents.

Israel and the State of Palestine: Palestinian and Israeli children continued to be affected by the prevailing situation of military occupation, conflict and closure. Eight Palestinian children (six boys and two girls) were killed and 1,265 were injured in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2013. In the West Bank, an upsurge was observed in the number of Palestinian children killed and injured by Israeli security forces during clashes and as a result of violence by Israeli settlers. Eight Israeli children were injured in the West Bank in incidents related to the presence of Israeli settlements, while no Israeli children were killed in 2013. In Gaza, most cases of killing and maiming Palestinian children occurred between January and March 2013, following the November 2012 Israeli military offensive "Pillar of Defence". Three Palestinian children were killed, including two boys in unexploded ordnance-related incidents and, on 24 December 2013, a three year old girl in a shelling by Israeli security forces of a building in Al Maghazi refugee camp.

Lebanon: 2013 was marked by a significant increase in violence as a result of explosions inside Lebanon and along its borders, as well as sectarian violence between factions and communities, further exacerbated by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations continued to receive allegations of use of children in sectarian clashes, specifically in the Tripoli neighbourhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tebbaneh, and on children in Lebanon being pressured into joining armed groups in the Syrian Arab Republic. Despite restricted monitoring access owing to the security situation, the United Nations documented 56 incidents of violations against children, including the killing of 11 children and injury caused to 21 others by landmines, unexploded ordnance, cross-border shelling from the Syrian Arab Republic, sectarian armed clashes and sniper fire.

Libya: The situation for children in Libya remained precarious in 2013, with political tensions escalating into armed confrontations in al-Ajailat, al-Shagiga, Ghadamis, Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha, sometimes involving the use of heavy weapons. The United Nations documented the killing of 14 children (12 boys and 2 girls) between 4 and 17 years of age, and the injury of five others (four boys and one girl) in crossfire and improvised explosive device incidents or as a result of heavy weaponry.

Myanmar: The recruitment and use of children by parties to conflict continued to be a concern in 2013. The United Nations received complaints of 37 children newly recruited into the Tatmadaw, including a 12-year-old boy, and 196 others previously recruited. Children used by the Tatmadaw continued to be deployed to the frontline as combatants and in other roles, in particular in Kachin State. Armed groups also continued to recruit and use children, including the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council. Several cases of children associated with KIA and KNLA were reported and verified. At least seven children were killed and six others injured in sporadic fighting between the Tatmadaw and KIA in Kachin and northern Shan States, including air strikes by the Tatmadaw. In addition, the communal violence in Rakhine State continued to preoccupy child protection actors.

Nigeria: Conflict in the north-eastern region of Nigeria has resulted in serious violations against children. The United Nations received reports of the recruitment and use of children as young as 12 by Boko Haram. Children are allegedly used for intelligence purposes, tracking movements of the security forces, transporting guns and taking part in attacks, including the burning of schools and churches. Hundreds of children were killed or maimed by Boko Haram in bomb and gun attacks against anyone who supported democracy or so-called Western values. In September alone, 491 persons were killed in nine attacks, including an unknown number of children. For example, on 17 September 2013, Boko Haram attacked Benisheikh, killing at least 161 people, mainly civilians. The escalating violence and recurrent attacks on schools severely disrupted the right of children to education, with 15,000 children in Borno State reportedly having to stop attending schools between February and May 2013. 

Pakistan: The recruitment of children by armed groups in Pakistan, including reportedly for use as suicide bombers and bomb planters, remained a grave concern in 2013. Although exact figures of child casualties were not always available in 2013, improvised explosive device blasts were reported to have killed at least 18 children and injured 76 others, particularly in the Provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For example, a twin suicide attack on 22 September at the All Saints Church in Peshawar city, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killed 81 people, including an unknown number of children. A splinter group of the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Tehrik-i-Taliban-Jandullah, claimed responsibility. In another attack, on 20 June 2013, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shia mosque in Quetta, Balochistan, followed by a remote-controlled improvised explosive device explosion after civilians and rescue workers had reached the site, killing at least 28 persons, including 3 children, and injuring 65 others.

Philippines: Children continued to be used by all armed groups, including by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed an action plan with the United Nations in 2009, the New People's Party (NPA), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Abu Sayyaf and the independent MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). At least 20 children (4 girls and 16 boys) were killed and 22 others injured (6 girls and 16 boys) in 33 separate incidents. Most child casualties resulted from clashes between the national armed forces and armed groups, including with MNLF in Zamboanga City in September, as well as in factional fighting within armed groups.

Somalia: The United Nations documented the recruitment and use of 1,293 children, including by Al-Shabaab (908), the Somali National Army and allied militia (209), and Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama'a (ASWJ) (111). The remaining cases were attributed to the Somaliland Armed Forces (15) and to unknown armed elements (36). Al-Shabaab continued its campaign for the recruitment of children and youth. For instance, on 24 January, Al-Shabaab recruited six boys, as young as 12, in a Koranic school in south-west Baidoa. In separate incidents, 19 children, as young as 15, were recruited during dedicated campaigns in Bardhere district, Gedo region, and Jilib district, Middle Juba region. Al-Shabaab uses children in various roles, including as combatants and to gather intelligence. At least 237 children were reportedly killed (179 boys and 58 girls) and 494 children were injured (383 boys and 111 girls) in 2013. The national army and allied militias were reportedly responsible for 334 child casualties (98 killed and 236 injured), followed by unknown armed groups (83 killed, 174 injured), Al-Shabaab (47 killed, 67 injured), AMISOM (7 killed, 14 injured), ASWJ (two killed, one injured), and the Puntland and the Somaliland forces (one child each injured).

Syrian Arab Republic: The conflict and violence in the Syrian Arab Republic reached unprecedented levels during 2013. Intense bombardments by Government forces on opposition or disputed areas, increased operations by a growing number of armed groups in constantly evolving coalitions as well as the expansion of the control of Islamist groups in northern Syrian Arab Republic led to massive grave violations against children. Hundreds of civilians, including many children, were killed during the chemical attack on Damascus suburbs in August. At least 237 children were reportedly killed (179 boys and 58 girls) and 494 children were injured (383 boys and 111 girls) in 2013. The national army and allied militias were reportedly responsible for 334 child casualties (98 killed and 236 injured), followed by unknown armed groups (83 killed, 174 injured), Al-Shabaab (47 killed, 67 injured), AMISOM (7 killed, 14 injured), ASWJ (two killed, one injured), and the Puntland and the Somaliland forces (one child each injured).

More than 10,000 children are estimated to have been killed since the outset of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic and the killing and maiming of children has increased exponentially in 2013. The use of barrel bombs by Government forces in Aleppo city in December alone led to hundreds of children killed and injured. Children also continued to be killed in ground offensives by Government forces. On 29 January, during the "Al-Queiq river" massacre in Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo, at least 10 children were reportedly among those summarily executed.

Thailand (southern border provinces): Despite the unprecedented announcement of a "general consensus on the peace dialogue process" between the Government of Thailand and "people who have different opinions and ideologies from the State", including the National Revolutionary Front (BRN), on 28 February 2013, armed violence continued to affect the southern border provinces of Thailand. Credible sources indicate that at least 316 improvised explosive device attacks were reportedly carried out in Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, and Yala Provinces, including 35 improvised explosive device attacks during the last two weeks of Ramadan. In April 2013 alone, 45 people were reportedly killed and 79 others injured in 298 incidents, including bombings and drive-by shootings. Although exact figures on child casualties were not always available, the United Nations received reports of 7 children killed and 37 injured in such incidents.

Yemen: The United Nations verified the recruitment of 106 children, all boys between 6 and 17 years of age. The Salafists recruited 57 boys to fight against the Al-Houthi/ Ansar Allah in Dammaj, Sa'ada governorate. Children were mainly recruited during recruitment drives in mosques and marketplaces in the southern governorates of Abyan, Aden, Al Dhale, Amran, and Lahj and, in a few cases, received military training. 14 children were recruited by AQAP/Ansar al-Sharia in Abyan governorate and three boys were used by the Al-Islah party and the Popular Committee, a locally rooted resistance group, which aligned with the Government to fight AQAP/Ansar al-Sharia in Abyan. At least 36 children were killed and 154 others maimed. Child casualties occurred mainly in the governorate of Sa'ada, but also in 12 other governorates throughout Yemen.


First published on 5th August 2014.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 

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