The systematic assault and rape of children in war zones has emerged as a central characteristic of conflict across the globe, and governments must do more to protect minors and punish perpetrators, the United Nations says in a new report (.pdf).
The nature of conflict has changed in the last decade, the report charges, creating “new and unprecedented threats to children. In many of the new wars, especially in Asia and Africa, conflict remains internal and takes place in peripheral areas where access is difficult. In particular, children and other vulnerable segments of the civilian population are increasingly becoming the direct targets of violence.”
While sexual violence has been a common feature of conflicts throughout history, the increasingly widespread use of sexual assault as a battlefield tactic, particularly against children, adds a new dimension of human rights abuses.
Children in war zones face a multitude of dangers — including abduction, rape, being forced into combat, hunger and death. Those who are internally displaced or separated from their families, the report notes, are particularly vulnerable to assaults. Chad, the Central African Republic, Nepal, the Palestinian Territories and the Democratic Republic of Congo are on the list of current areas of concern. In the DRC alone, 200,000 cases of rape against women and girls have been registered by the U.N. since 1996. While that figure includes adults, the sheer scale of the number and brutality of the crimes has outraged children’s rights campaigners.
“Such violations are often perpetrated in a rule-of-law vacuum as a result of conflict, and there often exists a prevailing culture of impunity for such crimes,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a press release.
“In some situations, the fear of being attacked on their way to school or at school deprives girls of their basic right to learn and shape their future. In other places, schools are used as recruiting grounds and entire classes have been abducted to be used as child combatants,” Coomaraswamy added.