On June 21, 2021, the United Nations Secretary-General (SG) published his annual report (“annual report”) on children and armed conflict documenting grave violations of children’s rights in 21 situations covering the period from January 1, to December 31, 2020. The number and severity of grave violations committed against children remained alarmingly high, with more than 26,000 violations verified by the UN in 2020, compared to 25,000 in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic had devastating impacts as it hampered the ability of the UN and other independent actors to monitor and verify violations and made children more vulnerable to certain violations. The annual report also includes a ‘list of shame’ in its annexes that names parties responsible for committing violations. The annexes divide listed parties into two categories: parties who have put in place measures to improve the protection of children and those who have not.
The most prevalent violations in 2020 were recruitment and use (8,521 children), killing and maiming (8,422 children), and denial of humanitarian access (4,156 incidents). Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia showed the highest child casualty numbers, while recruitment and use was most frequently documented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Syria, and Myanmar. Escalation of ongoing conflicts and intercommunal violence contributed to the increased violations.
The annual report emphasizes the importance of using a gendered lens to properly address the unique experiences of children in conflict. During 2020, 85 percent of documented cases of recruitment and use were boys, while 98 percent of the UN-documented cases of sexual violence occurred against girls.
This year’s report included information on the situation of children in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and the Lake Chad Basin region – all added as situations of concern.
The COVID-19 pandemic both impacted the work of international child protection staff and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities for children affected by armed conflict. Measures to limit the virus’ spread presented challenges for monitoring and verifying violations, yet in many contexts, UN monitors adapted to the conditions and, in some cases, even improved their strategies and working methods. The closure of schools and Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS), as well as loss of family income leading to extreme poverty, may have exacerbated children’s vulnerability to recruitment by armed forces and armed groups. Isolation and lack of safe spaces such as schools and community centers put children, and especially girls, at higher risk for sexual violence. Closed schools were subject to military occupation, while attacks on schools and health facilities continued to be prevalent throughout 2020. With the pandemic adding complexities to the fight to end grave violations against children, all stakeholders must redouble their efforts to ensure children are protected and their rights respected.