How children have become frontline targets in armed conflicts
From widespread killing, maiming, abduction and sexual violence to recruitment into armed groups and strikes on schools and hospitals, as well as essential water facilities – children living in conflict zones around the world continue to come under attack at a shocking scale.
Today, one in four children live in a country affected by conflict or disaster, and 2017 saw a large increase in the number of documented violations against children in these areas.
Armed forces and armed groups are required by international humanitarian law to take measures to protect civilians, including children who are particularly vulnerable during times of war. Civilians must never be the target of attacks.
To better monitor, prevent, and end attacks on children, the United Nations Security Council has identified and condemned the following six grave violations against children in times of war, which were monitored in 20 conflict-affected countries around the world in 2017.
1. Killing and maiming of children
Since 2010, the number of UN-verified cases of children being killed and maimed has increased significantly. In 2017 alone, the UN verified more than 10,000 cases of children who were killed or maimed in conflict. Maiming includes any serious, permanent, or disabling injury to a child.
These violations contributed to the overall rise in the number of children globally affected by fighting in 2017, fueled by a growing disregard for the rules of war amidst indiscriminate violence in countries like Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan.
2. Recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups
Tens of thousands of girls and boys are estimated to be recruited and used in conflicts worldwide. Many have been taken by force, while others join due to economic or social pressure. Children who are displaced or living in poverty are even more vulnerable to recruitment.
Children are recruited or used for various functions by armed forces and groups, including as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers and spies, or they are subjected to sexual exploitation.
The numbers of children recruited into armed forces are rising – verified cases increased four times in the Central African Republic (299) and doubled in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,049) compared to 2016. The number of verified cases of the recruitment and use of children in Somalia (2,127), South Sudan (1,221), the Syrian Arab Republic (961) and Yemen (842) persisted at alarming levels.
3. Attacks on schools or hospitals
Schools and hospitals should be protected spaces, where children are safe even in times of conflict. Yet, attacks against schools and hospitals during conflict have become a growing, and alarming, trend. These attacks range from partial or total destruction of schools or medical facilities, to the military use of buildings and attacks against staff.
Not only do these attacks put children’s lives at risk, they also disrupt their learning and limit their access to medical assistance, which can have a lifelong impact on their education, economic opportunities and overall health.
In the Philippines, for example, the siege of Marawi from May to October 2017 led to the destruction of more than 20 schools, hindering access to education for more than 22,000 children.
4. Rape or other sexual violence against children
Millions of children and women around the globe live with the terrifying threat of sexual violence in conflict every day. In times of war, they are subjected to rape, sexual slavery or trafficking, forced marriage/pregnancy, or enforced sterilization. In some cases, sexual violence is used to intentionally humiliate a population or to force people from their homes.
Some armed groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, often specifically target girls, who are raped, forced to become wives of fighters or used to perpetrate suicide attacks. In February 2018, for instance, the group abducted 110 girls and one boy from a technical college in Dapchi, Yobe State, the majority of whom have since been released.
The widespread stigma around rape and sexual violence means it is a particularly under-reported issue affecting children in conflict, but it is clear that this violation remains all too common and that both girls and boys are at risk.
5. Abduction of children
In areas affected by armed conflict, children are often captured or taken against their will, either temporarily or permanently, and subjected to exploitation or abuse.
In many cases, children who are abducted are also victims of other grave violations, like killing, maiming, sexual violence or recruitment into armed groups. They might also be held hostage or arbitrarily detained.
Parties to conflict also abduct children as an intentional act of violence or retaliation against civilian populations.
In 2017, there was a 70 per cent increase in the cases of child abduction. In Somalia alone, the Al-Shabaab armed group abducted more than 1,600 children with the primary objective of increasing their ranks by using boys and girls in combat and support roles.
6. Denial of humanitarian access to children
In conflicts around the world, armed forces and armed groups block humanitarian aid from reaching millions of people – many of them children – in desperate need of help. Warring parties often deny humanitarian actors access to those in need or prevent assistance from reaching civilian populations. Civilians are also denied aid when humanitarian workers are targeted and treated as threats.
In Syria, for example, the removal of medical kits and surgical supplies from aid convoys, restrictions on medical evacuations, and killing of medical personnel, mean that access to critical and lifesaving healthcare for many civilians is diminishing day by day.
Since 2010, documented incidents of denial of humanitarian access have increased by more than 1,500 per cent, according to a Save the Children analysis of UN figures.
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Stigma, poverty leave disabled children neglected in Kenyan orphanages
by Disability Rights International , agencies
Thousands of disabled children in Kenya - abandoned by their parents due to poverty and stigma - are being neglected and uncared for in orphanages across the east African country, according to a study by Disability Rights International (DRI).
"Our research found having a disabled child is a horrible stigma in Kenya. They are a source of fear and shame and are a curse - and parents are pressurised to abandon these children or even kill them," said Eric Rosenthal, DRI''s executive director.
"We also found that abandoned children are being placed in orphanages which are often unregistered and unregulated, where they are neglected and at risk of abuse and exploitation," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
An official from Kenya''s department of child services, who did not want to be named, said all registered orphanages were being inspected regularly, but it was possible some charities were running unregistered orphanages.
"We inspect all institutions caring for children which are registered," he said. "Those that are registered are closely monitored but could be some which are fake orphanages not looking after the children."
According to government statistics, around 3.5 percent of Kenya''s 40 million people have a disability, but campaigners estimate the true figure is closer to 10 percent.
The government has social welfare programs to support people living with disabilities, but campaigners say they remain largely unimplemented and few disabled people know of their entitlements.
A lack of awareness has also allowed age-old myths labelling disabled people as "cursed" or "bewitched" to persist, leaving many on the margins, unable to complete their schooling, get a job, or secure land or other assets.
The DRI study, released this week, was based on inspections of more than 20 orphanages and interviews with 60 mothers of disabled children.
It found mothers received little or no support on how to care for their children. Many were shunned by their families and communities while doctors were unsympathetic.
"Mothers complain doctors and nurses do not want to treat them or their children with disabilities because they believe disability is dangerous or even ''contagious''," said the study.
"Mothers are often sent home without any information or care plan as doctors feel children with disabilities are "not worth it" or are "not going to make it", it added.
As a result, disabled children were being abandoned in orphanages where they could be forcefully tied down in wheelchairs, locked in darkened rooms or left neglected and unclean for hours at a time.
Orphanage owners admit that they often do not have the enough resources to care for the children, and say they are dependent on donations from local and foreign donors.
"Most of the children at my orphanage have been left in hospitals, car parks and even pit latrines," said Anne Nyeri, executive director of the Compassionate Hands for the Disabled Foundation orphanage in Nairobi. "We do what we can to look after these children, but we know it''s not enough."
But Rosenthal said orphanages were out-dated and that Kenya - as well as international donors who fund hundreds of orphanages in the country - needed to rethink policy on institutional child care.
He called for families to be given information and support to care for their disabled children and for greater awareness to dispel negative perceptions around disability.
"All the science shows that children need to grow up in a loving family environment, and not in orphanages, which are banned in many countries including the United States," said Rosenthal. "All children - disabled or not - should be in families, not orphanages."
End Shackling in Indonesia
In 2016, Human Rights Watch exposed the shackling of 18,000 people with psychosocial disabilities in Indonesia. Since then the government took promising steps to rescue people from chains while raising awareness and providing services. However, today, more than 12,800 people are still shackled; to beds, cement blocks, or in animal pens. Help end shackling once and for all by calling on the Indonesian government to monitor and end the practice of shackling inside institutions:
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