The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the UN’s capacity to monitor and verify grave violations against children in armed conflict and hampered ongoing efforts to engage parties to conflict to end and prevent the violence. Available data demonstrate an increase in recruitment and use, sexual violence and ill-treatment in detention, the new study shows.

Based on information gathered by the United Nations on the ground and from partners, the study Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict addresses the preliminary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (and related control measures) on children affected by armed conflict and on the monitoring and reporting capacities to further assess the long-term impact on children’s rights and to ensure appropriate responses.

The study covers the year 2020 and was produced by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG CAAC,) with the generous support of the United Kingdom. It focuses on five countries on the CAAC agenda: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Sudan.

“The study shows the importance of strong and resilient UN Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMRs) to ensure the protection of conflict-affected boys and girls in the face of additional challenges posed by the pandemic. I highly commend the dedicated work and adaptability of our child protection and humanitarian colleagues on the ground and call on the international community to redouble its efforts and provide them with increased political and financial support as we explore new ways of working to better protect children,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

Impact on Monitoring and Verification

The study shows that the monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) was most significantly impacted during the second and third quarter of 2020, due to some interruptions of the United Nations-led verification process because of movement restrictions. This could also be the reason for the seeming decrease in reported violations documented during the same period as in-person visits were not possible. The study further shows that CTFMRs have managed to largely resume their monitoring activities after a six-month period of adjustment.

Impact on Boys and Girls Affected by Armed Conflict

The verification delays affected the analysis of available data, which likely does not reflect fully the overall impact of the pandemic on the commission of violations against children in 2020. The actual impact will emerge as the verification process continues in the short and medium term. Available information on more sensitive grave violations such as the recruitment and use, sexual violence, and abduction, seems to have been particularly impacted, supporting a likely increase for these three violations.

The pandemic and related control measures have likely further increased the vulnerability of children to recruitment and use because of schools’ closures, loss of family income or the withdrawal of state and humanitarian actors in some areas. According to available data, the specific vulnerability of girls to rape and other forms of sexual violence has likely been exacerbated by the suspension of services, reduced mobility, and increased isolation.

The detention of children for alleged or actual association with parties to conflict made them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic and related control measures, with less protection available to this already highly vulnerable population. The Special Representative echoes the calls made by UNICEF and other partners to release all children in detention for actual or alleged association with parties to conflict to decrease their vulnerability, limit the spread of the virus and as an urgent humanitarian action.

Impact on Engagement with Parties to Conflict

The ability to work with parties to conflict has also been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related control measures, with the postponement of commitments and activities such as signature of agreements, dissemination of Action Plans, training and screening exercises, among others. Similarly, impacts on the release and reintegration of children have been observed, with delays in screening, closure of drop-in centers, reduced capacities in interim care facilities, delays in family reunification as well as ongoing socio-economic impacts.


Although definitive conclusions on the impact of the pandemic will require follow-up in-depth research after backlogged reports of violations have been cleared, the study concludes with a series of urgent recommendations to guide those attempting to alleviate the problems faced by conflict-affected children due to the pandemic and help them cope with possible future crises, including additional support to CTFMRs for staffing and resources.

The study further encourages the United Nations and partners on the ground to continue to analyze 2020 grave violations through a COVID-19 lens, to consider the long-term socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic and continue monitoring, and to adapt programmatic and advocacy responses accordingly.

“This preliminary study helps us understand how the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have been addressed by the children and armed conflict teams on the ground and how lessons learned and best practices can be drawn from successful contexts. This includes the sharing of information on trends and patterns of violations emanating from COVID-19 between CTFMRs, as it can further inform our work on prevention and create better future for this vulnerable population,” added Virginia Gamba.


Note to editors: An Arria-formula meeting will take place on Friday, May 7th, 2021, to further discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children affected by armed conflict.


For additional information, please contact:

Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

+1-646-537-5066 (mobile) /

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: