West and Central Africa is the region with the highest number of child soldiers in the world, as well as the most minor victims of sexual violence, according to a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Since 2016, the region has been hit by growing conflict in which more than 21,000 children have been recruited by government forces and armed groups, the report said on Tuesday.
In addition, more than 2,200 children have been verified as victims of sexual violence over the past five years, it added. Meanwhile, about 3,500 children have been abducted, making it the region with the second highest abductions in the world, while there have been at least 1,500 attacks on schools and hospitals.
Overall, the UN agency for children said more than 57 million children in the region needed humanitarian aid, a number that has doubled since last year due to conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whether children in West and Central Africa are the direct targets or collateral victims, they are trapped in conflict and face violence and insecurity,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“The serious violations of their rights committed by parties to the conflicts are unacceptable. They have a detrimental impact on their ability to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the development of their communities and countries, ”Poirier added.
Since 2005, when the UN set up a system to monitor and report serious offenses against children, such as recruitment, kidnapping, rape and attacks on schools and hospitals, one in four offenses worldwide in West and Central Africa committed, the report reads. .
In conflict-ridden countries such as Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, violence has had devastating humanitarian consequences for children and communities, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, the UN said. .
The Sahel – a semi-arid region stretching from northern Senegal through parts of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and as far as Sudan and Eritrea – has seen an increase in violence in recent years.
Several countries in the Sahel were involved in conflicts involving several armed groups, military campaigns by national armies and international partners, as well as local militias.
The security crisis began in 2012 when an alliance of separatist and armed groups took over northern Mali, leading to military intervention by the former colonial power France to stop the separatist march to the capital, Bamako, and a total to prevent collapse of the Malian state. The conflict then spilled over to neighboring Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Children associated with armed groups are often exposed to “unbearable levels of violence” and their recruitment may be preceded and followed by other offenses such as kidnapping, sexual violence and the murder and mutilation of children, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba told The Associated Press.
The UN has called on parties to the conflict to prevent and end offenses against children and to hold offenders accountable. It also encouraged aid groups to increase the documentation of violations and work to prevent and respond to them.
UNICEF said it needed more than $ 92 million to protect children in emergencies across West and Central Africa, more than half of which had not yet been funded.