Children in conflict zones hit by shocking scale of attacks: Unicef

Rohingya refugee children making their way to Bangladesh in September after their village was torched in Myanmar. Unicef said parties to conflicts are blatantly disregarding international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.
Rohingya refugee children making their way to Bangladesh in September after their village was torched in Myanmar. Unicef said parties to conflicts are blatantly disregarding international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.PHOTO: UNICEF

NEW YORK • The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said attacks on children in conflict zones worldwide hit a shocking scale this year.

"Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds," said Unicef director of emergency programmes Manuel Fontaine in a statement yesterday.

"As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal."

The agency said parties to conflicts are blatantly disregarding international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.

Unicef said children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.

"In some contexts, children abducted by extremist groups experience abuse yet again upon release when they are detained by security forces," said the Unicef statement.

The report highlighted data from a number of conflict zones.

For example, in Yemen, more than 11 million children need humanitarian assistance. In 1,000 days of fighting in Yemen, at least 5,000 children have been killed or injured, according to verified data, with actual numbers expected to be much higher.

In Myanmar, Rohingya children suffered and witnessed widespread violence as they were attacked and driven from their homes in Rakhine state.

In Afghanistan, almost 700 children were killed in the first nine months of the year, while in Iraq and Syria, children have reportedly been used as human shields, targeted by snipers and lived through intense bombardment.

Millions more children are suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma as basic services - such as access to food, water, sanitation and health - are denied, damaged or destroyed in the fighting, Unicef said.

"Unicef calls on all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals," it said.

"Unicef also calls on states with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Children in conflict zones hit by shocking scale of attacks: Unicef'. Print Edition | Subscribe