U.N. Calls Out Groups For Targeting Children In War

Child soldiers in Myanmar (Credit: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations on Wednesday released its annual report on children and armed conflict and the results are grim, with more than two dozen groups cited as intentionally targeting children in their fighting.

Every year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations is mandated to provide an update to the body’s General Assembly and Security Council on the countries and groups that still utilize child soldiers when waging war. The report also has to include information on how children are affected by armed conflict more broadly, and detail instances if and when their human rights are violated in conflicts around the world. Unfortunately, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s report for 2013 seems to indicate that this was a banner year in each category.

Fifty-five groups made the United Nations’ “List of Shame” this year, contained in an annex at the end of the report, naming those who either actively recruit child soldiers to their ranks or intentionally target children for harm. These range from rebel groups like the M23 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to terrorist groups such as Ansar Dine in Mali, to government security forces including the Afghan National Police. Twenty-nine of those groups have been listed in every report for the last five years, earning them the title of “persistent perpetrators.”

“The absence of clear front lines and identifiable opponents, the increasing use of terror tactics by some armed groups and certain methods used by security forces have made children more vulnerable,” the report laments, describing instances of schools under attack, children arrested and tortured, and sexual violence committed against youth. Details of abuses against children in twenty-four countries around the world are made harrowingly clear throughout. Secretary-General Ban in particular called attention to the situation in Syria, calling the toll on children “unacceptable and unbearable.”

The report also worries about the introduction of armed drones into warfare. Citing not only reports of children being killed in drone strikes, including reports of at least 50 children dying in strikes in Yemen, it also examines the psychological effect that their use has on youth. “Reports further indicate that the use of drones has a wider impact on children, especially their access to education,” the report warns, adding that “in some situations, both boys and girls have ceased attending school owing to the fear of drone strikes.”

Not everything contained in the report is negative, however, as several groups have been removed from the List of Shame this year. Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all signed action plans with the United Nations in 2012, pledging to remove children from within the ranks of their armies. This is outweighed though by the addition of 14 new groups and governments to the list this year.