The 2018 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict said that more than 24,000 grave violations against children were verified by the United Nations in 20 country situations.
Continued fighting between parties to conflict, new conflict dynamics and operational tactics, combined with widespread disregard for international law, had a devastating effect on children, it said.
While the number of violations attributed to non-State actors remained steady, there was an alarming increase in the number of violations attributed to State actors and to international forces in comparison with 2017.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “disheartened”, said his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Apart from the verified violations, thousands of others were pending verification due to resources and access constraints.
Guterres is particularly appalled at the number of children killed or maimed in the 20 country situations on the Children and Armed Conflict agenda last year, which reached more than 12,000 boys and girls, an unprecedented level, said Haq.
“This is the highest number we have ever recorded since 2005 on this violation,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba told the press.
The number of child casualties in Afghanistan remained the highest such number in the present report, and children accounted for 28 percent of all civilian casualties.
In the Syrian Arab Republic, air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions resulted in 1,854 child casualties, and in Yemen, 1,689 children bore the brunt of ground fighting and other offensives, the report said.
Children continued to be forced to take an active part in hostilities, including to carry out suicide bombings against civilians, said the report, adding that others were used in support roles such as sexual slaves or human shields.
Somalia remained the country with the highest number of cases of the recruitment and use of children followed by Nigeria, according to the report.
The report also verified 1,023 attacks on schools and hospitals. In the Syria, 2018 witnessed 225 attacks, the highest numbers of attacks, on schools and medical facilities recorded since the beginning of the conflict.
Attacks on schools and hospitals had a devastating effect on access to education and to health services for thousands of children, the report said.
“Increased numbers of attacks were also verified in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen.”
The UN chief urged all parties to conflict to strengthen their engagement with the United Nations and reminds them of their responsibility for protecting children.
“Parties must ensure compliance with their obligations under international law, including the special respect and protection accorded to children affected by armed conflict by international humanitarian law,” said Haq.
In the conduct of hostilities, parties to conflict must refrain from directing attacks against civilians, including children, and civilian objects, Haq said, adding that Guterres reiterated that peace remained the best protection for children affected by armed conflict.