Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council 

A bleak year for children around the world

In 2023, tens of thousands of children were affected by armed conflict across the world, suffering abhorrent abuses and violations of their rights. The splintering of existing or the emergence of new armed actors, intercommunal violence, relapse into or escalation of conflict, the use of explosive weapons, particularly in populated areas, and the presence of explosive ordnance have increased the risk for conflict-affected children to become victims of grave violations as highlighted in this year’s report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council.

“All parties to conflict must strictly adhere to international humanitarian and international human rights law. However, in the end, the most rapid and effective way to end and prevent grave violations against conflict-affected children is through meaningful engagement, cessation of hostilities, peace processes, and dialogue for sustainable peace.” said the Special Representative.

The report highlights that cases of denial of humanitarian access have continued to be verified at alarmingly high levels, with government forces being the main perpetrators. Extreme concern is also emphasized in the report about attacks on schools and hospitals and related personnel, with the highest number in Ukraine, Burkina Faso, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Myanmar, Mali, and Afghanistan. Girls’ education has frequently been targeted because of harmful gender norms, including attacks on girls’ schools, forced schools’ closure, and the abduction of girls at school or on the way to school. Furthermore, the report highlights continued high numbers of children detained for their actual or alleged association with armed groups.

Engagement for conflict-affected children

The Special Representative’s engagement with parties to conflict, including through her visits, led to positive developments for conflict-affected children. In Colombia, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace opened case No. 11 on sexual and gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict. In Iraq, the Government and the United Nations signed an action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces. In Ukraine the Government signed with the United Nations a joint prevention plan to end and prevent grave violations against children. In Somalia, the Federal Government endorsed age verification guidelines and a standardized checklist, a formal procedure that will support the protection of children.

“A collaborative and complementary approach is more important than ever to end and prevent grave violations against children and the international community must continue its political, technical, and financial support to the protection of conflict-affected children, including to ensure the sustainable reintegration of all children released from parties to conflict,” said the Special Representative. In this vein, her collaboration with Member States, regional organizations – in particular the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States –, UN bodies, and civil society organizations continued. As such, the Special Representative engaged with the Human Rights Council through her yearly interactive dialogue, with six Special Procedures mandate-holders and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Her office submitted information on the rights of children in eight situations on the children and armed conflict agenda as part of the Universal Periodic Review and one country review of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Deepening the understanding on issues impacting conflict-affected children

As a follow up to the recommendations of the 25th anniversary study on the Children and Armed Conflict mandate, the Special Representative published in 2023 two discussion papers. One, that situated the Children and Armed Conflict agenda within the climate, peace, and security discussions, exploring the impacts of climate insecurity on the six grave violations against children in armed conflict. A second one sought to better understand the impact of armed conflict on children with disabilities and identified recommendations to make the children and armed conflict mandate more inclusive of their specific requirements and promote a human rights-based approach to disability inclusion in its implementation.

Further thematic research is being developed in 2024, notably on the interlinkages between trafficking and the six grave violations against children, in collaboration with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, as well as a guidance note on the denial of humanitarian access, in collaboration with other UN entities. Additionally, a new campaign, aiming to rally the international community behind the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a self-paced online introductory course on Children and Armed Conflict, developed together with the United Nations System Staff College, will be launched.

“Child protection in armed conflict is a cross-cutting issue that transcends geographic boundaries and mandates and requires the mainstreaming of child rights principles into all relevant areas of our work, be it in peace and security, humanitarian assistance, development, or human rights”, concluded the Special Representative.


Full report 


For additional information, please contact:

Ariane Lignier, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, New York.