Increasingly Complex Conflicts with Devastating Impact on Children, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Warns General Assembly in Annual Report

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, August 23, 2016

New York – In her annual report to the General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, highlighted the devastating impact on children of increasingly complex conflicts, despite concerted efforts and significant progress achieved over the past year.

“The impact on children of the collective failure to prevent and end conflict is severe, with regions in turmoil and violations against children intensifying in a number of conflicts,” Leila Zerrougui said in the report, which covers the period from August 2015 to July 2016. “The violations are directly related to the denigration of respect for international humanitarian and human rights law by parties to conflict.”

Emerging crises and protracted conflicts profoundly disrupted children’s lives during the reporting period. She noted that the proliferation of actors involved in armed conflict and cross-border aerial operations created highly complex environments for the protection of boys and girls. In 2015, and again in the first half of 2016, Afghanistan recorded the highest number of child deaths and injuries since the UN started systematically documenting civilian casualties in 2009. In Syria and Iraq, violence continued unabated. In South Sudan, following a year during which children were victims of brutal violations, hopes for improvement all but evaporated with the resumption of conflict last month. In Yemen, the escalation of conflict continued with alarming levels of child recruitment, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals.

Twentieth anniversary of the children and armed conflict mandate

The report also takes stock of the achievements accomplished in the twenty years since the publication of Graça Machel’s report, “Impact of armed conflict on children,” which led to the creation of the mandate of the Special Representative by the General Assembly. Since 2000, over 115,000 children have been released as a result of action plans and advocacy. Engagement with non-State armed groups is growing and recently contributed to a historic agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP to release all children in the ranks of the FARC-EP.

The advocacy generated by this mandate, and reinforced by the campaign “Children, not Soldiers”, has led to a global consensus among Member States that children do not belong in security forces in conflict. This progress in addressing recruitment and use over the last 20 years has been built upon and utilized in work to reduce other grave violations, notably sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

In that regard, the new development agenda brings new opportunities to reinforce and create synergies with the child protection agenda. The Special Representative called on the General Assembly in her report to pay special attention to children affected by conflict to fulfil the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, she called for adequate resources for education in emergencies and for support to children disabled during conflict.

Protection challenges posed by violent extremism

Other issues addressed in the report to the General Assembly include the impact of violent extremism on children. During the reporting period, children were severely affected, and often the direct targets of acts intended to cause maximum civilian casualties. Recruitment and use of children, abductions and other grave violations were prevalent concerns as armed groups controlled large swaths of territory. The Special Representative urged Member States to avoid responding to these threats with operations that can “create or add to real or perceived grievances in the affected population.”

The report also states that increasingly large numbers of children have been arrested, detained, used as spies and for intelligence gathering, or even sometimes sentenced to death for their alleged association with parties to conflict.

“Detention of children should always be the last resort for the shortest time possible and guided by the best interests of the child. If they are accused of a crime during their association with armed groups, children should be processed by the juvenile justice system rather than by military or special courts,” said Leila Zerrougui.

Attacks on health care and protected personnel

In the past months, attacks on medical facilities, including aerial bombardments, have increased concerns over the protection of health care in conflict. This has severely disrupted access to lifesaving assistance for children growing up in conflict zones, and can have long-lasting consequences as it often takes years to rebuild capacity. The Special Representative calls on all parties to conflict to take clear measures to protect hospitals as outlined in the report.


Armed conflict has resulted not only in human casualties, but also in an ever growing number of displaced children. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced away from their homes among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are children. In the Report, the Special Representative encourages Member States and other partners to support initiatives to help displaced children rebuild their lives, particularly through ensuring that education is prioritised in emergency settings.


The Report ends with recommendations to the General Assembly and Member States, which include:

1. To ensure that Member States engagement in hostilities, including in efforts to counter violent extremism, are conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law

2. To highlight the rights of children displaced by conflict and the obligations of States of origin, transit and destination

3. To treat children allegedly associated with non-State armed groups as victims entitled to the full protection of their human rights

4. Encouraging Member States concerned by the “Children, not Soldiers” campaign to redouble their efforts to fully implement their Action Plan

5. To take appropriate measures to reintegrate children, giving special attention to the needs of girls

6. To ensure that special attention is paid to children affected by armed conflict in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Read the full report at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N16/234/89/PDF/N1623489.pdf?OpenElement

For more information please contact:

Sharon Riggle or Stephanie Tremblay

Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict,

Tel: +1 212 963-9614 – Mobile: +1 917 288-5791

riggle@un.org or tremblay@un.org

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