In and around Tripoli, an increasing number of children are "at imminent risk of injury or death" two senior United Nations officials warned on Thursday, citing a surge of aggression in crisis-torn Libya.
General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya, has waged a two-week military campaign to take Tripoli from fighters loyal to the UN-recognized Government.
Calling the escalation in fighting "the worst in years", Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, issued a statement reminding all of Libya's warring parties that they are obliged "to protect children at all times in full compliance with international law".
"Killing, injuring and recruiting children, and attacks on education, medical and water facilities are all grave violations of children's rights and must cease immediately", they stated - reminding that in line with Security Council resolution 2427, "prevention measures must be put in place to better protect children".
Together they also urged for "safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all children in need, and for a ceasefire to allow civilians to safely leave areas under conflict".
Children caught in the middle
Nearly 1,800 children are among the civilians who need urgently to be evacuated from frontline fighting, as the raging violence has already displaced 7,300 others, the two UN officials said. Moreover, around 500,000 children are estimated to be affected by violence across the country's west.
"Children trapped in conflict areas are at risk of running out of food and losing access to medical care" they explained. "Unable to leave these areas, they cannot safely seek protection or assistance".
Pointing out that the violence has also left nearly 1,000 refugee and migrant children held in detention centres "in grave danger", Mses. Fore and Gamba stressed that "they should be immediately released and provided with safe shelter until their asylum claims can be processed or they can be provided with safe repatriation assistance for reunification with their families".
"The principle of non-refoulement must be respected", they maintained, underscoring that unaccompanied minors, many of whom are in transit, "are at risk of grave violations including recruitment and use, sexual violence or abduction".
The fighting is also depriving children of their right to education.
The two UN officials detailed that the academic year has not only been suspended in all schools throughout conflict-affected areas, but seven are acting as shelters for displaced families. Additionally, a recent attack on an education warehouse destroyed five million schoolbooks and national school exam results.
"Libya has suffered through more than seven years of persistent conflict that has left at least 820,000 people, including some 250,000 children, in dire need of humanitarian assistance", the UN officials stressed, "and the situation is deteriorating yet again".
"For their sake, and the sake of the country's future, the fighting must stop," concluded Mses. Fore and Gamba.