Violence in “rising conflicts”, including Gaza, will reach new heights in 2023, according to the UN report.

Violence against children involved in multiplied and intensified conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023, with an unprecedented number of deaths and injuries, including in the occupied Palestinian territory, according to a United Nations report.

Children were “killed and maimed in unprecedented numbers in devastating crises,” notably in the Gaza Strip, according to the report released by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday.

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report found “a shocking 21% increase in serious violations” against children under 18 in a range of conflicts, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Syria.

The UN verified 30,705 violations against children in 2023, affecting more than 15,800 boys and 6,250 girls. Some were subjected to multiple violations, the report says.

Although armed groups were responsible for almost 50% of serious violations, the report stated that “government forces were the main perpetrators of the murders and mutilations of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.”

For the first time, the UN report placed Israeli forces on its blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights through the murder and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It also listed the armed groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the first time.

In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in 2023, the report stated that 5,698 serious violations against children were attributed to Israeli forces, 116 to Hamas, 58 to unidentified perpetrators, 51 to Israeli settlers, 21 to Islamic Jihad, 13 to Palestinian individuals, and one to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority.

The report indicated that the process of verifying the attribution of another 2,051 violations was ongoing.

Hamas-led attacks on October 7 in southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza have led to an increase in serious violations against children, especially due to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas of Gaza, the report said.

In the Gaza Strip alone, the report said that the UN verified the deaths of 2,141 Palestinian children. However, it said around 9,100 children were reported dead in the territory, “and verification is ongoing.”

In total, in the Palestinian territories, “some 19,887 Palestinian children were reported killed or maimed, and the reports are pending verification.”

The magnitude of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza “and the extent of the death and destruction in the Gaza Strip has been unprecedented,” Guterres said, reiterating calls for Israel to comply with international law and ensure that civilians are not targeted and that no excessive force is used.

The UN chief said he was “appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of serious violations against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, despite my repeated calls for parties to implement measures to prevent serious violations.”

‘Denial of humanitarian access’

Sudan – where a war between rival generals has been ongoing since April 2023 – has seen “a staggering 480% increase in serious violations against children,” the report said.

The Sudanese army and rival paramilitary forces Rapid Support Forces were added to the blacklist for killing and injuring young people and attacking schools and hospitals. Paramilitary forces have also been cited for recruiting and using children in military operations and for rape and sexual violence.

By the end of 2023, Guterres said the UN had verified 1,721 serious violations against 1,526 children in Sudan.

“I am appalled by the dramatic increase in serious violations,” he said, especially the recruitment, murder and mutilation of children, as well as sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

A growing civil conflict in Myanmar has also seen a 123% increase in serious violations against children, and Myanmar’s military, related militias and seven armed groups have been blacklisted.

The report stated that the UN verified 2,799 serious violations against 2,093 children, including 238 murders and 623 injuries attributed to the army and allied militias.

The UN has kept the Russian military and affiliated armed groups on its blacklist for a second year due to the murder and maiming of children in Ukraine and attacks on schools and hospitals there.

The UN verified the murder of 80 Ukrainian children and the maiming of 419 by Russian forces and their affiliates last year, mainly by explosive weapons, the report said.

Virginia Gamba, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, said one of the “disturbing” trends found was the continued use of schools and hospitals for military purposes by parties to the conflict.

“I urge all parties to the conflict to stop using schools for military purposes and to ensure that hospitals maintain their protected status,” said Gamba, speaking to reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

She said the UN has reported 5,205 verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children, which is “an unacceptably high number, representing a 32% increase over previous years.”



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