World’s highest child soldier numbers in West, Central Africa

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UNICEF says more than 21,000 children have been recruited by government forces and armed groups into conflict-affected areas during the past five years.

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According to a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), West and Central Africa has the highest number of child soldiers in the world as well as the youngest victims of sexual violence.

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The region has been hit by escalating conflict since 2016, with government forces and armed groups recruiting more than 21,000 children, the report said on Tuesday.

In addition, over 2,200 children have been verified as victims of sexual violence during the past five years. Meanwhile, about 3,500 children have been kidnapped, making it the second largest abduction area in the world, while there have been at least 1,500 attacks on schools and hospitals.

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Overall, the United Nations Children’s Agency said more than 57 million children in the region need humanitarian aid, a number doubling from last year as a result of conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whether children in West and Central Africa are direct targets or collateral victims, they are caught in conflict and face violence and insecurity,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa.

“Serious violation of their rights by parties to conflicts is unacceptable. Their ability to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the development of their communities and countries is adversely affected,” Poirier said.

The report said that since 2005, when the United Nations established a system to monitor and report serious violations against children, such as recruitment, kidnapping, rape and attacks on schools and hospitals, globally One in four violations were committed in West and Central Africa, the report said. ,

The UN said violence has had devastating humanitarian consequences for children and communities in conflict-affected countries such as Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

The Sahel – a semi-arid region that stretches from northern Senegal into Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan and Eritrea – has seen an increase in violence in recent years.

Many countries in the Sahel are embroiled in conflicts involving the military operations of several armed groups, national armies and international partners, as well as local militias.

The security crisis began in 2012 when a coalition of separatist and armed groups occupied northern Mali, prompting military intervention by former colonial power France to halt the separatist advance towards the capital Bamako and prevent the total collapse of the Malian state. The conflict then spread to neighboring Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Children belonging to armed groups are often exposed to “unbearable levels of violence” and may be subject to other violations such as kidnapping, sexual violence and murder and maiming of children before and after their recruitment, according to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed conflict Virginia Gamba told the Associated Press.

The United Nations called on parties to the conflict to prevent and end violations against children and to hold perpetrators accountable. It also urged support groups to increase documentation of violations and work to prevent and respond to them.

UNICEF said it needed more than $92 million to protect children in emergencies in West and Central Africa, more than half of which is not yet funded.

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