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Violence against children in conflicts soared to ‘extreme’ levels last year, say the UN

VIOLENCE against children caught in multiplying and escalating conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023, a damning new report from the United Nations said today.

The UN said that the killing and injuries to children during conflicts has reached unprecedented levels, from Israel and the Palestinian territories to Sudan, Myanmar and Ukraine.

The annual report on Children in Armed Conflict reported that “a shocking 21 per cent increase in grave violations” against children under the age of 18 in an array of conflicts, also citing Congo, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Syria.

For the first time, the UN report put Israeli forces on its blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights for the killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals. 

It also listed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants for the first time as well for killing, injuring and abducting children.

Hamas’s October 7 surprise attack in southern Israel and Israel’s massive military assault on Gaza have led to a 155 per cent increase in grave violations against children, especially from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Gaza, said the report by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

The UN included Russia on its blacklist for a second year over its killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals in Ukraine. 

Sudan, where a war between rival generals vying for power has been raging since 2023, witnessed “a staggering 480 per cent increase in grave violations against children,” the report said.

The Sudanese Armed Forces and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces went on the blacklist for killing and injuring youngsters and attacking schools and hospitals — and the paramilitary also for rape and sexual violence.

By the end of 2023, the secretary-general said, the UN had verified 1,721 grave violations against 1,526 children. 

Mr Gutteres said: “I am appalled by the dramatic increase in grave violations,” especially the recruitment, killing and maiming of children as well as sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

The secretary general said he was shocked by Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s killing, maiming and abduction of children on October 7, saying nothing can justify these “brutal acts of terror.”

But, he said, the magnitude of the Israeli military campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad “and the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip have been unprecedented.”

He repeated his calls for Israel to abide by international law and ensure civilians are not targeted, and urged that excessive force is not used during law enforcement operations.

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