West Africa has highest numbers of child soldiers, says UN

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Child soldiers rescued from Boko Haram by Nigerian army attend a handover ceremony in Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria, on Oct. 3, 2019. Nigerian army on Thursday handed over 25 child soldiers recruited by Boko Haram to the government and an agency of the United Nations for rehabilitation. (Photo by Makama Sule/Xinhua)
Child soldiers rescued from Boko Haram by the Nigerian army attend a handover ceremony in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, on Oct. 3, 2019. /Xinhua

Trapped in conflicts, the children of West and Central Africa are the most recruited by armed groups in the world and also have the highest number of victims of sexual violence, says a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

For five years the region has seen increased conflicts in which more than 21,000 children have been recruited by government forces and armed groups, says the report. In addition, more than 2,200 children in the region have been victims of sexual violence since 2016, says the report.

More than 3,500 children have been abducted, making it the region with the second-highest abductions in the world, said the report.

“The numbers and trends are extremely worrying for current and future generations of children,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa told The Associated Press.

“Not only have grave violations against children perpetrated by parties to the conflicts not stopped across West and Central Africa, but we have even seen a spike over the past five years, with a 50 percent increase in the total number of verified grave violations,” she said.

Since 2005, when the U.N. established a system to monitor and report on serious violations against children, such as recruitment, abduction, rape and attacks on schools and hospitals, one out of four violations globally was committed in West and Central Africa said the report.

In conflict-affected countries such as Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, violence has had devastating humanitarian consequences for children and communities, with the pandemic exacerbating the situation, said the U.N.

More than 57 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance, a number that’s doubled since last year as a result of conflict and the virus.

While some countries have been a concern for nearly a decade or more, there are three new areas of concern: Burkina Faso, Cameroon and the countries surrounding Lake Chad, according to the U.N.’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

The U.N. is calling for parties to the conflict to prevent and end violations against children and for perpetrators to be held accountable. It urges aid groups to increase the documentation of violations and to work to prevent and respond to them. UNICEF says that it needs more than 92 million U.S. dollars to protect children in emergencies across West and Central Africa, more than half of which is not yet funded.

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