Geneva — The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict has said millions of children caught in armed conflict are victims of grave violations and subject to sexual violence and recruitment as child soldiers. The findings were made in a report that Leila Zerrougui has submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
All people caught in situations of conflict suffer, but children suffer the most, said Zerrougui, who added that many are killed and maimed. and often forced to witness and commit atrocities. Children are also arrested, detained, tortured and ill-treated for their alleged association with parties to conflict, she said.
Zerrougui reviewed the condition of children caught in armed conflict between June 2013 and July 2013 in Syria, Chad, Yemen, the Philippines and other nations at war. Of all the countries under review, she said Somalia remains the one with the largest number of children associated with armed groups.
"The relapse into conflict in Central African Republic and Eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] has affected the most vulnerable, and children previously separated from armed groups and forces have been re-recruited," Zerrougui said.
"Reports on the situation in these countries describe a continuing and alarming trend of grave violations committed against children. Children also bore the brunt of the conflict [that] broke out in northern Mali, where armed groups have recruited and used hundreds of children."
Human Rights Watch estimates between 200,000 and 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in armed conflicts around the world.
It says about 100,000 of these children are fighting in Africa. The organization says children comprise up to 70 percent of the soldiers in some armed groups. It says girls also are recruited, but at lower numbers and some of these girls are used as sex slaves.
Children are used as soldiers in armed groups operating in 21 countries. Nevertheless, Zerrougui said the United Nations is making progress in getting nations of conflict to sign action plans to end the recruitment and use of children as soldiers.
She noted the Democratic Republic of the Congo has signed an action plan to end the recruitment and use, as well as sexual violence against children. And the Transitional Government of Somalia has signed an action plan to end killing and maiming of children -- the first of this kind to be signed by a government, she said.
"Building on this momentum, I have decided to launch a global initiative to end the recruitment and use of children by government security forces in armed conflict by 2016. This initiative aims to deepen cooperation with governments that have committed to ending underage recruitment."
Zerrougui is calling for the international community to respond to the plight of conflict-affected children, warning that the future of children caught in armed conflict will be called into question if more is not done to protect their rights.