.
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rmed groups recruited and used 8,521 children as soldiers worldwide in 2020, with an additional 10,858 children experiencing abductions, killing and maiming, sexual violence, and the denial of humanitarian access.

This, according to a new report from the United Nations (UN) in which Secretary-General António Guterres disclosed the alarming developments in the use of child soldiers during 2020. 

“[The] pandemic aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children,” Guterres noted in the report. This claim references another UN report from May that identified various ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic threatened children in areas of armed conflict. 

As a result of restrictions and lockdowns from early 2020, children faced limited access to education, health and social services, safe spaces, and child protection opportunities. Without these resources, armed groups may have been more inspired to prey on vulnerable children.

Indeed, compared to the previous year, 2020 saw distinct increases in certain grave violations. The UN recorded a 90% increase in abductions and a 70% increase in rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in areas of armed conflict––two violations identified to be commonly connected. Notably, 98% of the incidents of sexual violence were perpetrated against girls, who constituted just 25% of all verified grave violations.

Yet despite these massive leaps, abductions (3,202) and incidents of sexual violence (1,268) were not the most prevalent violations of 2020. Recruitment (8,521), killing and maiming (8,422), and the denial of humanitarian access (4,156) remained more widespread.

The verified violations against children all occurred in 21 regions worldwide identified by the UN. Four countries––Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, and Syria––were distinguished for having the highest number of children affected.

Guterres offered recommendations for each individual situation with the end goal of protecting children. They ranged from simple demands that the country complies with international law to requests that the government sets aside funds for survivor programs and child protection provisions. In the 21 situations, the UN advised the implementation of 17 action plans and 35 new commitments.

A frequent criticism of the report––and not categorized as a grave violation––was the detention of children by governments on the basis of their alleged or actual association with armed parties, despite not being legal adults.

“The detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, with respect for due process,” wrote Guterres in a sweeping recommendation. He emphasized that governments should treat these children “primarily as victims.”

Last year, at least 3,243 children were detained. Not only were they at a high risk of contracting the virus within the walls of detention centers, but a lack of access to health services compounded the virus’ threat to these children, said the UN in the COVID-19 report from May.

If Guterres’ recommendations were followed, the governments would release these detained children, as was the case for 12,643 children in 2020 following UN advocacy. However, the UN reported that the reintegration efforts for these children were delayed by lockdowns and capacity controls. Interim Care Centers accepted fewer children, and family reunifications were postponed for months.

Decreased restrictions in late 2020 alleviated these delays. However, the UN maintains that the pandemic is still a threat. It committed itself to continue to monitor the vulnerability of children in situations of armed conflict through a COVID-19 lens for the foreseeable future.

About
Thomas Plant
:
Thomas Plant is a student at the College of William & Mary pursuing a BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies. He is a founding co-director for DisinfoLab, an undergraduate research lab at W&M.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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How the Pandemic Helped Create More Child Soldiers

UNMISS Welcomes Release of Hundreds of Former Child Soldiers in Yambio. Former child soldiers hold notebooks and pens distributed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). UN Photo.

Over 300 children associated with armed conflict were released by armed groups in Yambio, South Sudan on 7 February 2018. The children will be reintegrated into the community and will start learning new skills to support themselves. A total of 700 children have been screened and registered for release in phases, 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) and 137 associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition (SPLA-IO).

July 7, 2021

The UN has found that pandemic lockdowns made children far more vulnerable to recruitment as child soldiers, abduction, and abuse. The easing of lockdowns has helped, but the UN warns that it remains a threat.

A

rmed groups recruited and used 8,521 children as soldiers worldwide in 2020, with an additional 10,858 children experiencing abductions, killing and maiming, sexual violence, and the denial of humanitarian access.

This, according to a new report from the United Nations (UN) in which Secretary-General António Guterres disclosed the alarming developments in the use of child soldiers during 2020. 

“[The] pandemic aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children,” Guterres noted in the report. This claim references another UN report from May that identified various ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic threatened children in areas of armed conflict. 

As a result of restrictions and lockdowns from early 2020, children faced limited access to education, health and social services, safe spaces, and child protection opportunities. Without these resources, armed groups may have been more inspired to prey on vulnerable children.

Indeed, compared to the previous year, 2020 saw distinct increases in certain grave violations. The UN recorded a 90% increase in abductions and a 70% increase in rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in areas of armed conflict––two violations identified to be commonly connected. Notably, 98% of the incidents of sexual violence were perpetrated against girls, who constituted just 25% of all verified grave violations.

Yet despite these massive leaps, abductions (3,202) and incidents of sexual violence (1,268) were not the most prevalent violations of 2020. Recruitment (8,521), killing and maiming (8,422), and the denial of humanitarian access (4,156) remained more widespread.

The verified violations against children all occurred in 21 regions worldwide identified by the UN. Four countries––Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, and Syria––were distinguished for having the highest number of children affected.

Guterres offered recommendations for each individual situation with the end goal of protecting children. They ranged from simple demands that the country complies with international law to requests that the government sets aside funds for survivor programs and child protection provisions. In the 21 situations, the UN advised the implementation of 17 action plans and 35 new commitments.

A frequent criticism of the report––and not categorized as a grave violation––was the detention of children by governments on the basis of their alleged or actual association with armed parties, despite not being legal adults.

“The detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, with respect for due process,” wrote Guterres in a sweeping recommendation. He emphasized that governments should treat these children “primarily as victims.”

Last year, at least 3,243 children were detained. Not only were they at a high risk of contracting the virus within the walls of detention centers, but a lack of access to health services compounded the virus’ threat to these children, said the UN in the COVID-19 report from May.

If Guterres’ recommendations were followed, the governments would release these detained children, as was the case for 12,643 children in 2020 following UN advocacy. However, the UN reported that the reintegration efforts for these children were delayed by lockdowns and capacity controls. Interim Care Centers accepted fewer children, and family reunifications were postponed for months.

Decreased restrictions in late 2020 alleviated these delays. However, the UN maintains that the pandemic is still a threat. It committed itself to continue to monitor the vulnerability of children in situations of armed conflict through a COVID-19 lens for the foreseeable future.

About
Thomas Plant
:
Thomas Plant is a student at the College of William & Mary pursuing a BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies. He is a founding co-director for DisinfoLab, an undergraduate research lab at W&M.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.