West, Central Africa have highest number of child soldiers: UNICEF

UNICEF says African region also sees highest number of rape incidents, other forms of sexual violence against children

Peter Kenny   | 23.11.2021
West, Central Africa have highest number of child soldiers: UNICEF


West and Central Africa had the highest number of children recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups involving more than 42,000 children between 2005 and 2020, UNICEF said on Tuesday.

“Over this same period, the region also ranks first – and worst – when it comes to numbers of rape and other forms of sexual violence committed against children, with more than 8,000 violations,” said Karin Heissler, UNICEF regional chief of child protection in West and Central Africa.

She was speaking at a UN briefing in Geneva on violations against children in armed conflict.

Heissler said the two African regions ranked second-highest worldwide in abductions with 4,800 cases and said the incidents are increasing.

“These are rankings we would rather not be part of,” said the UN official.

“And these are only the cases the UN was able to verify: the actual number of grave violations are much higher as many are unreported,” she added.

Half the population of the Central and West Africa, or 282 million, are children, according to Heissler.

Among grave violations Heissler cited are recruitment, killing and maiming, rape and other sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.

50% uptick in grave violations

Between 2016 and 2020, grave violation increased by 50%, said the UNICEF official.

“And there was a sadly exponential acceleration between 2019 and 2020, in the number of grave violations against children, increasing by 35%in one year,” she said.

In 2021, “a staggering 10%” of children living in conflict included in the UN Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict need humanitarian assistance.

Heissler said that Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the multi-country emergencies, including crises in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin regions, have devastating consequences on children.

“For those children recruited and used, we call for the quick transfer of children from armed forces to civilian authorities and child protection actors to receive appropriate assistance, as children and as victims,” she said.

Between 2005 and 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has consistently ranked first worldwide in the recruitment of children for conflict, Nigeria ranks fourth, and the Central African Republic ranks eighth, according to UNICEF.

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