Secretary-General Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict

The year 2018 was marked by the highest levels of children killed or maimed in armed conflict since the United Nations started monitoring and reporting this grave violation, shows the latest Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict released today.

Overall, more than 24,000 violations were verified in 2018 in the 20 conflict situations on the Children and Armed Conflict agenda. While the number for other violations decreased or remained relatively steady, more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed, mostly by cross-fire incidents, ERW, IEDs, landmines and active combat actions by non-state actors, state actors and multinational forces.

“It is immensely sad that children continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict, and it is horrific to see them killed and maimed as a result of hostilities. It is imperative that all parties to conflicts prioritize the protection of children. This cannot wait: parties to conflict must take their responsibility to protect children and put in place tangible measures to end and prevent these violations,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

The recruitment and use of children continued unabated with more than 7,000 children drawn into frontline fighting and support roles globally. Somalia remained the country with the highest number of children recruited and used followed by Nigeria and Syria. “Nevertheless, the number of children released has consistently increased in the past years, as a result of direct engagement of the UN with parties to conflict bringing hope to thousands of children,” said the Special Representative.

Incidents of sexual violence against boys and girls remained prevalent in all situations (933 cases), but the violation continued to be underreported due to lack of access, stigma and fear of reprisals; the highest figures were verified in Somalia and DRC. Children continued to be abducted, often to be used in hostilities or for sexual violence. Nearly 2,500 children were verified as abducted in 2018, more than half of them in Somalia. While the verified attacks on schools and hospitals decreased globally (1,056), it significantly intensified in some conflict situations such as Afghanistan and in Syria, where the highest number of attacks was verified since the beginning of the conflict. The military use of schools remained a worrying trend and the deprivation of access to education was alarming in situations like Mali, with 827 schools closed at the end of December 2018, preventing 244,000 children from access to education. A total of 795 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, a decrease compared to 2017, the majority in Yemen, Mali and CAR .

The Special Representative commended the work of child protection and humanitarian actors on the ground providing humanitarian assistance to children as well as support to victims of violations in all country situations and called on parties to conflict to allow unimpeded access. “The tireless efforts of child protection actors in conflict situations is simply remarkable; the international community must continue to support them and ensure that they have the appropriate resources to support the children in need,” SRSG Gamba said.

Release and Reintegration of Children and Prevention of Grave Violations

A total of 13,600 children benefited from release and reintegration support worldwide, an increasing number compared to the previous year (12,000). 2,253 children were separated from armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 833 in Nigeria and 785 in the Central African Republic. As the number of children released is increasing, resources and funding for reintegration support must meet the growing needs, as called for in Security Council resolution 2427 (2018) and highlighted in the report’s recommendation.

Engagement with parties to conflict led to the signature of three new Actions Plans, demonstrating commitment to ending and preventing violations as well as protecting children. In the Central African Republic : Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC, May 2018) and Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC, June 2019), as well as in Syria: Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, June 2019). In Yemen, the Government adopted a Road Map at the end of 2018 to speed-up the implementation of its 2014 Action Plan, while the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations in March 2019 to increase the protection of children during its military operations; a workplan with concrete and time-bound activities is being finalized. In the DRC, eight armed groups commanders signed unilateral declaration in 2018, committing to end and prevent child recruitment and use and other violations. More armed groups signed similar declaration since.

“A preventive approach including through the development of national, subregional and regional prevention plans, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2427 (2018), is the only way to ultimately limit the number of children victims of grave violations and ensure that protection frameworks are in place, not only in countries affected by conflict but also in their immediate region,” SRSG Gamba said.

International commitments are powerful instruments for the protection of children. South Sudan acceded to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) in September 2018, while Mali endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in February 2018.

Detention of Children in 2018

The detention of thousands of children around the world for their actual or alleged association with armed groups continued to be deeply concerning in 2018. The Special Representative reminded that legal procedures should comply with international juvenile justice standards, children should be primarily treated as victims of recruitment and use and alternatives to detention should be sought whenever possible.

The situation for children deprived of liberty, particularly in Syria and Iraq with the majority below the age of 5, is tragic. The report calls on concerned Member States to work closely with the UN to facilitate the relocation of foreign children and women actually or allegedly affiliated with extremist groups, with the best interest of the child as the primary consideration in decisions affecting their lives. “Children exposed to the highest levels of violence should not be further ostracized once released from armed groups and armed forces. These children are victims of recruitment and use and their best interest must be given primary consideration”.

Click to read the full report.


For additional information, please contact:

Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
+1-212-963-5986 (office) / +1-917-288-5791 (mobile) /

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