UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Children experienced the highest number of “grave violations” in conflicts verified by the United Nations in 2022, with the conflicts between Israeli and Palestinians and in Congo and Somalia putting the most youngsters in peril, the U.N. children’s agency said Wednesday.
UNICEF also expressed particular concern about their plight in Haiti, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine, where Russia has been put on the U.N. blacklist.
“Grave violations” include the recruitment and use of children by combatants, killings and injuries, sexual violence, abductions, and attacks on schools and hospitals.
Omar Abdi, UNICEF’s deputy executive director, told the U.N. Security Council the more than 27,000 grave violations, up from 24,000 the previous year, are the highest number verified by the U.N. since its monitoring reports began in 2005. The number of conflict situations “of concern” was also the highest — at 26.
Since the report, Abdi said, a serious conflict has erupted in Sudan where over 1 million children have been displaced by violent conflict and the U.N. has received reports that hundreds have been killed and injured. He also said UNICEF expects an increase in Palestinian children affected due to recent escalations in violence.
Government and parties to conflicts are not fulfilling their commitments to protect children, and “meaningful and unambiguous action” is needed, the UNICEF official said.
In his yearly report to the council late last month, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put Russian forces on the U.N.’s annual blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights in conflict for killing boys and girls and attacking schools and hospitals in Ukraine.
But the U.N. chief did not put Israel on the blacklist for grave violations against 1,139 Palestinian children, including 54 killings last year — as supporters had hoped – saying the U.N. welcomed its “identification of practical measures including those proposed by the U.N.” to protect children.
The U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, told the council that the 27,180 grave violations in 2022 were carried out against 18,890 children and included 8,620 who were killed or injured, 7,622 who were recruited or used by governments or armed groups in conflicts, 3,985 who were abducted, 1,165, almost all of them girls, who were raped, forced into marriage or sexual slavery or sexually assaulted.
The United Nations also verified attacks on 1,163 schools and 647 hospitals, a 112% increase from 2021, she said.
While armed groups were responsible for 50% of grave violations, Gamba underscored that governments were the main perpetrators of the killing and maiming of children and of attacks on schools and hospitals.
Gamba said, for example, last year three girls were gang raped in South Sudan “during five days of terror,” many boys were killed by an explosive device at a school in Afghanistan, a 14-year-old girl in Myanmar was abducted and burned alive, and an airstrike in Ukraine left a girl with amputated limbs.
“We must do more to prevent and protect our children from the ravages of armed conflict,” she said.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said the report makes clear that the world’s nations “have not done nearly enough to protect children from the impacts of conflicts.” He said the United States is “keen” to see this issue “elevated, enhanced, and better integrated into all the work of the Security Council.”
DeLaurentis accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, including against children, pointing to the many youngsters deported to Russia and forcibly separated from their families. And “Russia’s forces continue to attack areas where children are clearly present, including schools, hospitals and residential buildings,” he said.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Western media companies of cynically selecting the protection of children “for a dirty information campaign in order to slander the Russian Federation.”
He accused Guterres of making “a political decision” to put Russian forces on the U.N. blacklist and not Ukrainian armed forces, insisting there is “no factual basis” to label Russia a violator of children’s rights.
Nebenzia accused the Ukrainian military of killing and injuring children in Russian-occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk in the country’s east since 2014 and said Moscow’s complaints about Ukraine’s actions have been ignored by the U.N. and others. He said Russia has established a parliamentary commission to investigate alleged crimes against children by the Ukraine.