Increasingly complex and widening conflicts have taken a huge toll on children in much of the Middle East in 2015, with parts of Africa and Asia facing protracted and relapsing wars that show no signs of abating, Leila Zerrougui said today.

Describing in her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council how extreme violence affected countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, stressed that groups perpetrating extreme violence particularly targeted children.

“Children were disproportionately affected, displaced and often the direct targets of acts of violence intended to cause maximum civilian casualties and terrorize entire communities,” Ms. Zerrougui said in the report, which covers the period from December 2014 to December 2015.

The report also found that military responses targeting groups using tactics of extreme violence continued to generate additional protection challenges for children. Throughout the year, militias and vigilante groups allied with States used children in support roles or as combatants. The use of airstrikes was also of particular concern due, in many instances, to their indiscriminate nature.

The Special Representative noted that respect for human rights must be the basis of an effective response to extreme violence and actions must be undertaken in full compliance with international, humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.

Addressing the root causes of extreme violence, such as poverty and lack of economic opportunities for youth, lack of good governance, alienation of communities and political grievances, are necessary steps to find a lasting solution, Ms. Zerrougui stressed. She added that the crucial role of prevention, as detailed in the UN Secretary-General’s proposed plan of action to prevent violent extremism, must be emphasized.

In the report, the Special Representative expressed her deep concern at the increasing number of attacks on schools, as well as military use of schools, in countries affected by war. Again in 2015, conflict disrupted the education of millions of children, creating a direct challenge to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring quality education for all children.

Ms. Zerrougui called for additional funding for education in emergencies and reminded all parties to conflict of their responsibility to ensure safe access to school.

In addition, she noted that in 2015, the momentum generated by the campaign Children, Not Soldiers, launched in 2014, remained strong and led to a significant reduction of verified cases of recruitment and use of children by national security forces, especially in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar.

However, renewed conflict reversed most progress accomplished in South Sudan and Yemen, the Special Representative said.

“Through the campaign, Governments are developing or strengthening the legal framework to criminalize the recruitment of children and investing more resources and energy to fight impunity,” Ms. Zerrougui said. “This has created new openings to address other grave violations committed against children committed by all parties to conflict.”

In her report to the Human Rights Council, Ms. Zerrougui detailed how she used “every opportunity of engagement” with non-State armed groups and urges Governments to facilitate dialogue with a view to ending grave violations against children.

Among her recommendations, she encouraged Member States to treat children associated with armed groups primarily as victims and to use deprivation of liberty as a last resort and for the shortest time possible.

She also called for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and for adequate resources to set up and maintain sustainable reintegration programmes for former child soldiers.

You can read the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council here

This text was edited from the UN News Centre