Afghan girls polishing shoes in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the world observed  Children's Day on November 20, 2021 | Photo: EPA/Stringer
Afghan girls polishing shoes in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the world observed Children's Day on November 20, 2021 | Photo: EPA/Stringer

The UN children's agency UNICEF says that children have suffered grave rights violations over the past year. The agency called for "concrete measures" to protect children from abuse, including abduction and sexual violence.

UNICEF says that 2021 brought "a spate of grave violations against children in both protracted and new conflicts."

In a statement the agency said: "From Afghanistan to Yemen, and Syria to northern Ethiopia, thousands of children paid a devastating price as armed conflict, inter-communal violence, and insecurity continued.

In December, at least four children were reportedly among at least 35 people -- some of them internally displaced -- who were murdered in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar.

Tragedy of child rights violations across the world

"Year after year, parties to conflict continue to demonstrate a dreadful disregard for the rights and wellbeing of children," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

"Children are suffering, and children are dying because of this callousness. Every effort should be made to keep these children safe from harm."

In 2020, UNICEF reports, the UN verified 26,425 grave violations against children. Data for 2021 are not yet available, but the agency says that the first three months of 2021 saw an alarming rise in the rates of abduction and sexual violence - by more than 50 and 10 per cent, respectively - compared with the first quarter of the previous year.

"Verified abductions were highest in Somalia, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger), the UNICEF statement said. "Verified instances of sexual violence were highest in the DRC, Somalia and the Central African Republic," it added.

It went on to noted that the United Nations has verified 266,000 cases of grave violations against children in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America over the past 16 years but that the true figures will be far higher.

"Afghanistan, for example, has the highest number of verified child casualties since 2005, at more than 28,500 - accounting for 27 per cent of all verified child casualties globally.

"Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa region has the highest number of verified attacks on schools and hospitals since 2005, with 22 such attacks verified in the first six months of this year."

Child protection urged

UNICEF called for concrete measures to protect children, including preventing grave violations from occurring in the first place, releasing children from armed forces and groups, protecting children from sexual violence, and stopping attacks on hospitals and schools.

"Ultimately, children living through war will only be safe when parties to conflict take concrete action to protect them and stop committing grave violations," said Fore.

"As we approach the end of 2021, I call on all parties to conflict to end attacks against children, uphold their rights and strive for peaceful political resolutions to war."


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