Child victims of war spiked in 2023 amid Gaza, Sudan crises: UN report

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Violence against children in armed conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023, particularly in Gaza and Sudan, according to a forthcoming UN report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The United Nations’ annual “Children in Armed conflict” report placed the Sudanese army as well as the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on the blacklist for “the killing and maiming of children, and for attacks on schools and hospitals.”

Also added to the blacklist were Hamas for the October 7 attack on Israel, as well as the Israeli army for its retaliatory campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

“In 2023, violence against children in armed conflict reached extreme levels, with a shocking 21 percent increase in grave violations,” said the report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, which is due to be published on Thursday.

The UN verified 30,705 violations committed against children last year, including 5,301 killings, 6,348 injuries, 8,655 instances of children recruited and used in conflicts, 5,205 denials of humanitarian access and 4,356 kidnappings.

“We’ve never verified so many violations against children as last year,” said a senior UN official speaking on condition of anonymity.

In 2023, “children bore the brunt of multiplying and escalating crises that were marked by a complete disregard for child rights, notably the inherent right to life,” the report said.

– ‘A long, long time to verify –

The conflict in the Middle East has led to a 155 percent increase in grave violations against children, the report said.

The report confirmed the deaths of 2,141 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip in 2023, with 2,051 killed between October 7 and December 31.

Over 23,000 reports of grave violations against children — 3,900 Israeli children and 19,887 Palestinian children — by all parties to the conflict had yet to be verified.

“It will take a long, long time to verify,” said the UN official.

Israel reacted angrily when the news of its inclusion on the blacklist was leaked last week, with the country’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan saying he was “shocked and disgusted by this shameful decision.”

As for Sudan, it has seen “a staggering 480 percent increase in grave violations against children” against children from 2022 to 2023, the report said.

The RSF paramilitary force was listed for recruiting children and for “rape and other forms of sexual violence against children,” as well as attacks on schools and hospitals.

“I am appalled by the dramatic increase in grave violations,” Guterres wrote in the report, also noting a rise in ethnically motivated attacks and mass displacement of children in Sudan.

Covering some 20 conflict zones worldwide, the report includes the killing, injuring, recruitment, kidnapping and sexual violence against children.

It verified 30,705 “grave violations” committed last year, including during the attacks in Gaza.

The Russian army and “affiliated armed groups,” remained on the blacklist for killing 80 children in Ukraine in 2023 and injuring 339.

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