For Africa’s young citizens, 2013 was a tragic year. The United Nation’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s, annual report on children and armed conflict has recently revealed that children were recruited and used, killed and maimed, victims of sexual violence and other grave violations in 23 conflict situations around the world. Africa was responsible for almost half of these situations, with 11 violence hotspots revealed as locations were crimes against children take place.
The report was also groundbreaking in embarrassingly revealing that UN-approved AMISOM (peace keeping mission operated by the AU in Somalia), which is US and EU funded, and the Somali National Army and militias allied with it, had a combined total of 223 children in their ranks as at the end of 2013. This demonstrates the difficulty in monitoring and upholding children rights in situations of conflict.
Armed conflicts have a disproportionate impact on children. These vulnerable group is deliberately targeted and subject to militia recruitment, kidnappings, maiming, sexual violence and slavery. They are also killed – sometimes intentionally, sometimes as collateral damage.
According to the annual report, in 2013 the United Nations observed a significant spike in the killing and maiming of children in several situations. There were at least 520 children killed last year though this figure is a severe under-presentation since the report cannot account for the “hundreds” of children killed in South Sudan and Central African Republic’s (CAR) escalated violence. In Libya it appears that children were collateral damage - 14 were killed in crossfire and improvised explosive device incidents or as a result of heavy weaponry. But in certain scenarios it was evident that children had been deliberately killed. In CAR, in December 2013 and early January 2014, six boys were beheaded by Muslim civilians in retaliation for attacks by the anti-Balaka. In DRC during an attack on Kabwele village, Katanga, in February 2014, two four- year-old girls were locked into a hut and burned alive.
The figures for the number of children maimed came to 858, however, the report also cannot account for the high numbers of children that would have been injured in CAR, South Sudan and Nigeria.
There were clear areas of conflict on the continent that the report focused on as Africa “hot spots” for attacks against children. These are; Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Darfur, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Libya, CAR, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali and most recently added to the “watch-list” Nigeria.
All of these cases are liable to having used child soldiers in their conflicts. “We have documented the cases of children recruited and used by several national armies and 50 armed groups fighting wars in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and in 11 other countries,” said Leila Zerrougui, UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. The worst perpetrators in Africa include the “White Army” – South Sudanese Nuer ethnic group aligned with opposition forces – who have recruited “thousands of children”, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with 910 children, Somali-based Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab with 908 children and CAR with 188 confirmed cases. The numbers recruited by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, could not be established.
Child soldiers are used for a variety of military roles, for example in Nigeria, children, some as young as 12 years old, recruited by Boko Haram are allegedly used for “intelligence purposes, tracking movements of the security forces, transporting guns and taking part in attacks, including the burning of schools and churches.” However, for many of these groups the recruited children are not used solely as child soldiers. In DRC the report states; “almost half of the children were reportedly used as combatants, but children were also used as porters, cooks, informants and in other support roles. Most of the girls were subjected to sexual slavery.”
Cases of sexual violence are not limited to sexual slavery. Rape is commonly used worldwide as a weapon of war and it is not different in these conflicts. From the UN report we see how rape was frequently used against children in six of the conflict situations on the continent. A total of 475 confirmed cases of child-rape were gathered from the report though the actual figures will actually be far higher – the children, in particular girls, abducted or recruited by LRA are regularly subjected to sexual violence (this year the LRA reportedly had 65 children) and in Sudan sexual violence against children continued to be underreported in 2013 owing to “limited monitoring capacity and victims’ fear of stigmatisation.”
Whilst the incidents of rape are prevalent, and often associated with non-state actors, this is not always the case. In Somalia there were 154 confirmed incidents of sexual violence against children 49 of them by members of the national army and allied militias.
Abductions of children are also commonplace, there were 477 confirmed abduction cases - the worst area being South Sudan where 250 children were abducted during 2013, mostly during cattle raiding and attacks at night. In the DRC the abductees were mainly recruited as combatants, or subjected to sexual slavery or forced labour in mining sites controlled by armed groups.
In eight of the conflict situations there were attacks on schools. This is considered an attack on children as in these situations children can be killed, maimed, abducted but also because they lose the ability to attain an education – a key human right. According to figures in the UN report, 220 schools were confirmed attacked in the conflict areas – many of which then become occupied and used as bases by the forces. Attacks by Boko Haram on schools were not included in the tally of the above figure as the report did not present statistics for their attacks, yet the group are of particular concern. Targeted attacks on schools by Boko Haram, whose mantra includes the prohibition of Western education, were on the increase in Yobe and Borno States since October 2012 and throughout 2013, resulting in the killing of at least 100 children and 70 teachers. Because of their activities in Borno State 15,000 children reportedly stopped attending schools between February and May 2013 on 25 February 2014.
Though the statistics are daunting there is some hope for a reduction on child victims of war. Chad is a particular success story, no violations were recorded in Chad in 2013 and the country’s National Army has fulfilled all the requirements of its action plan to no longer recruit and use children. The UN has also launched the “Children, not Soldiers” campaign in March 2014 with the aim of ending the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces in conflict by the end of 2016.