Violence against children in conflict reaching ‘extreme levels:’ UN chief News
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Violence against children in conflict reaching ‘extreme levels:’ UN chief

Violence against children in armed conflict reached “extreme levels” in 2023, rising by 21 percent to 30,705, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated in a report on Thursday.

According to Guterres, severe violations and disregard for international human rights law contributed to the increase in grave violations against children. The number of killed and maimed children increased by 35 percent to 11,649, and the instances of sexual violence against children increased by 25 percent to 1,470. The killing and maiming of children were mainly perpetrated by government forces.

While boys were more frequently subjected to killing and maiming, a disproportionate number of girls were subjected to conflict-related sexual violence. Sexual violence is also believed to be underreported due to stigmatization, social norms and safety concerns. 2,491 children were also detained for being associated with armed groups, such as UN-designated terrorist groups.

In addition, Guterres said the greatest number of verified grave violations occurred in Israel and Palestine, where 8,009 grave violations against 4,360 children were committed. Hostilities in the region resulted in a 155 percent increase in violations against children. Israeli citizens, including children, were also subjected to sexual violence.

Guterres also noted that 1,865 verified violations against 834 children occurred in Afghanistan. 166 and 316 children in Afghanistan were killed and maimed, respectively. 12 children were also subjected to sexual violence by the Taliban and unknown perpetrators.

Guterres urged UN member states to prevent grave violations by conforming to their obligations under international humanitarian law. Guterres wrote:

I urgently call upon all parties to adhere strictly to their obligations under international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, and under international human rights law. I urge all parties to cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects and to take immediate, decisive action to end and prevent these grave violations … I call for the adoption and implementation of legislation that criminalizes violations of international law, including grave violations against children, and encourage [m]ember [s]tates to adopt accountability measures and to cooperate with international accountability mechanisms.

Senior UN officials previously decried the “plight of civilians” resulting from conflict in 2023 as “resoundingly dire,” pointing out civilian suffering and disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law around the world. UN Deputy Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya spoke to ambassadors at the Security Council and warned that the number of civilian deaths in 2023 “signals an alarming lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” Msuya decried the number of civilian deaths that occurred during the armed conflict in 2023, with 33,000 civilians having lost their lives, which marks a 72 percent increase compared to the previous year.