NEW YORK - Violence against children in the central Sahel region of Africa surged dramatically in the last quarter of 2023, skyrocketing by 70 per cent over the previous three months, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on Wednesday.

The agency revealed that in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, cases of recruitment and use of children in armed groups along with killings and maiming increased by more than 130 per cent between the two time periods.

Protect the vulnerable

Gilles Fagninou, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Asia, underscored the need to curb the distressing rise.

“Civilians need protection from all forms of violence. Communities caught up in fighting need protection. Far too many children are being affected by grave violations of their rights, including killings, abduction and recruitment by armed groups,” he said.

Ensuring the protection of children is critical, and the violent incidents in the central Sahel region must stop if children are to realise their basic rights to life under the international Convention on the Rights of the Child and the regional African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

“UNICEF calls on all involved in the ongoing crisis in central Sahel to put an end to all forms of violence, killing and abuse of children, in line with their obligations under international law,” Mr. Fagninou added.

Volatile situation

The security situation across central Sahel remains volatile, with frequent attacks on civilians against a backdrop of political tensions and rising humanitarian needs. Between February and April, over 1,180 security incidents were reported, which claimed the lives nearly 3,400 people.

Emblematic of the dire situation, several hundred people were reported killed in Burkina Faso, with reports that more than 220 civilians, including 56 children, were killed in attacks reportedly carried out by the military in two villages on a single day in late February.

Similarly in Mali, some 110 civilian men travelling on three buses between the towns of Bandiagara and Bankass were abducted by armed groups in mid-April. They are yet to be released.

Grave violations against children

UN Security Council resolution 1612, adopted in 2005, identified six grave violations against children: recruitment and use of child soldiers, killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, attacks against schools or hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access.

By highlighting these violations, the resolution sought to galvanise global efforts to protect children in conflict zones and mitigate the devastating impact of war on young lives.