Children Increasingly Suffering in Armed Conflict

An image from issue 10 of ISIS' propaganda magazine, Dabiq.


Children Increasingly Suffering in Armed Conflict

16 Jul 2015

Violence against children in conflict zones reached record levels in 2014, including reports of ISIS and Boko Haram targeting young people, according to a UN report.

There were unprecedented challenges in 2014 to the protection of children growing up in conflict zones around the world, according to the annual Children and Armed Conflict report, presented by United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon to the Security Council on 5 June.

The highest levels of violence perpetrated against children were found in countries facing major crises such as Iraq, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Israel and Palestine, and Syria. This includes reports that ISIS has recruited children in Syria into armed combat.

Violence against children rose to unprecedented levels.

Additionally, the protracted conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo add to the number of violations. Child casualties in Yemen have also significantly increased as a result of the latest conflict between the Houthi movement and forces loyal to the internationally-recognised, backed by Saudi Arabia.

Key Findings

The report observes that in 2014 abductions of children became progressively more widespread, and that the abductions themselves serve as antecedents for the later perpetration of other violations such as killing, maiming, recruitment, and sexual violence.

In 2014 armed groups were abducting children in far greater numbers than ever before, and this tactic is increasingly becoming a means of instilling terror and targeting certain ethnic groups and communities.

As a consequence, the report highlights that in the face of the growing violence against children, the level of protection that children now require has increased. Children need safer methods of release, assistance in tracing families, and medical and psychological assistance.

According to the report, extreme violence against children rose to unprecedented levels in 2014. The report also observed that there was an upsurge in the targeting of schools by extremist groups, coinciding with these groups' opposition to the universal right to education.

More schools attacked by extremist groups.

There have also been incidents of children being recruited and subjected to sexual violence by government-backed militias. The report also observed that military operations being carried out by regional and international coalition forces, as well as neighbouring countries, have led to the killing and maiming of children.

The report reviews the effect that armed conflict has had on children in 2014 across 23 countries. Below, we highlight some of the countries that have the most relevance in terms of the role of religion in conflict situations around the world.

Middle East & North Africa


2014 was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2007. Executions, target killings, abductions, sexual violence, and forced recruitment were all carried out against children in a year that witnessed extensive violations of international law in ISIS held territory. Sixty-seven boys were reported to have joined ISIS, and were conducting operations alongside adult fighters. According to the report, almost 400 children were being detained on terrorism-related charges or indictments for their involvement with armed groups. The report also found that over 1,200 children were abducted in Iraq in 2014, the highest number of abductions since 2008, with the vast majority of these carried out by ISIS against Yezidis in Sinjar.


In 2014 there was a drastic deterioration in the security situation in Libya, which hampered humanitarian and reporting efforts in the country. In Benghazi and Tripoli, access to healthcare for children was badly affected after hospitals were shelled. Many schools in eastern Libya have been closed since May 2014, due to the intensification of violence. Groups affiliated to Libya Dawn were reported to have abducted children in the west of the country after the violence in Tripoli. Human rights workers received threats from militant groups in Libya, threatening them with abduction and killing if they carried on with their mission.


The UN verified that members of all the major groups had carried out over 2,000 grave violations against children in 2014. ISIS specifically targeted children with acts of brutality as it sought to impose its doctrine, although the UN admitted that it had limited capacity to verify reports. Over 200 children had been used by ISIS, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG), and Jabhat al-Nusra, with 77 per cent of cases involving the use of children in armed combat. The report noted that children were being subjected to torture, used as human shields, and for forced labour. There were also 18 reported cases of sexual violence against children.


The recruitment and use of children in conflict has risen in the country  since 2013. The number of child casualties significantly increased in  Yemen from the previous years' report, with 74 killed and 244 injured. In a similar trend, the number of children killed by mines and other explosive devices doubled. The UN verified that there were 35 attacks on schools in Yemen, with all 10 schools in Amanah al-Asimah province destroyed during clashes between Houthis and pro-government militias. The report found that armed groups used 92 schools for military purposes, such as weapons storage and accommodation.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Central African Republic

The continuation of fighting between armed groups has made the situation of children in the Central African Republic worse. The UN confirmed 464 cases of child recruitment, of which 446 were by the Antibalaka, and 18 by the ex-Seleka. However the violations are vastly underrepresented due to a reduced reporting ability and lack of access. The report observed a sharp increase in documented cases of killing and maiming, with 146 children killed and 289 injured in 2014, the youngest victim being just three years old. There was continuing concern about rape and sexual violence against children between the ages of 7-17, carried out by the Antibalaka, the ex-Seleka, and the national police. The UN worked with armed groups to try and identify the children among the groups, leading to almost 3,000 children being identified and separated.


Over one million people have been displaced due to conflict in Nigeria, the majority of whom are women and children. Lack of access continues to be a challenge in verifying reports in the country. Reports of Boko Haram using children in both support and combat roles have increased, with an emerging trend of girls being used to carry out suicide bombings. In July 2014 four girls carried out suicide bomb attacks in Kano, and in another incident a girl wearing an explosives belt was rescued at a checkpoint in Katsina State. Schools, particularly those using a western curriculum, were targeted by Boko Haram. In February 2014, 59 schoolboys were either burned or shot in their dormitory, and in November 2014 a suicide bomber disguised as a schoolboy targeted another school, killing 47 and injuring 117. The abduction of 276 girls in Chibok from their school in April was the single largest abduction carried out by Boko Haram.


There were 1,870 documented violations against children in 2014 in Somalia. While this is a massive reduction on the previous year, the fall has been attributed to the reduced capacity to verify reports in the country. The report found that armed groups recruited and used 819 children, including 40 girls. Al-Shabaab targeted schools and mosques in an effort to recruit children. According to the report, 520 children were killed or maimed in the country as a result of the conflict. A significant incident was the execution of two children by al-Shabaab on allegations of spying. There were 70 reported incidents of rape and sexual violence affecting 76 girls committed by al-Shabaab, National Army, and armed militias, and other armed groups.

Central & South Asia


The number of children killed or injured in Afghanistan during 2014 rose by 48 per cent to over 2,500. The report found that there were 20 verified incidents of children joining the Taliban, while it was also reported that the group continued to use children to carry out suicide bomb attacks, planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), spying, and fighting. There was an 80 per cent increase in the number of children killed as a result of suicide bombings. Education establishments for girls were specifically targeted in 2014, with 165 verified incidents, including the use of 28 IEDs, of which 94 were attributed to the Taliban.


The attack on the military school in Peshawar in December 2014 highlighted the difficulties that Pakistan is facing, where 132 students and many other members of staff were killed during the attack carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. The report found that schools were continually targeted in the country, noting that 40 secular schools had been the subject of attacks. Sectarian violence and indiscriminate killings continued to be a major issue, particularly in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

South East Asia


The New People's Army (NPA) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continued to recruit children in the Philippines, but at a lesser rate than the previous year, although the report noted that such recruitment is often heavily underrepresented. The UN verified the killing of 13 children and injuring of 26 in 22 separate incidents, including an ambush by the ASG in which seven children died. Schools were reported to have been used by both the army and militant groups, resulting in the cancellation of classes. The report commended the progress made by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government in their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the current conflict in Mindanao.

The Children and Armed Conflict report may be read in full here  here.

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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