The abduction of children during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. The six grave violations form the basis of the Council’s architecture to monitor, report and respond to abuses suffered by children in times of war.
The abduction of children is a trigger to list parties to armed conflict in the annexes of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict.
In times of war, children are too often abducted by parties to conflict and subjected to brutal treatment. In many cases, the abduction of children is the precursor to other grave violations. Children can be abducted to be killed or maimed, to become victims of sexual violence or to be recruited to the ranks of an army or armed groups. In some instances, abducted children are detained arbitrarily by Governments or armed groups. Parties to conflict also abduct children in systematic campaigns of violence and reprisal against civilian populations.
In the 1990s and early 2000s in northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army notoriously used systematic abductions as its modus operandi to recruit children and commit sexual violence.
Mass abductions on the rise
We have observed in the past years that mass abductions of civilians, including children, have become an increasingly prevalent feature of conflict in many situations on the agenda of the Special Representative.
Armed groups abduct children in greater numbers and increasingly use abductions as a tactic to terrorize or target particular ethnic groups or religious communities.
For example, the 2014 annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict details how, in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, over one thousand girls and boys were abducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In one incident in the Syrian Arab Republic, ISIL abducted approximately 150 young boys on their way home after school exams in Aleppo. They were released from captivity after a few months, during which they were physically abused, indoctrinated and made to observe violent practices. At the end of 2014, ISIL issued a document justifying the sexual slavery of Yezidi girls abducted in Iraq.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram abducted hundreds of women and girls in major attacks in Chibok and across the country’s north-eastern region. Video statements released by Boko Haram indicated that the abductions were in retaliation against the Government for the detention of relatives and served as punishment for schoolchildren attending Western-style schools.
Greater needs to protect children
The increase in the frequency and scale of abductions has resulted in greater protection needs for children. The children require safe release, family tracing, medical, psychological and legal assistance and facilitation of voluntary repatriation in the context of cross-border abductions.
We are concerned by the long-term consequences of abductions. Dominic Ongwen of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was transferred to the International Criminal Court in January 2015. Abducted by the LRA in 1989 on his way to school, Dominic Ongwen rose to the rank of major when he was 18 years old. His transfer to The Hague, 25 years after his abduction, is a reminder of the long-term consequences of such violations.
Abduction now a trigger for listing
In June 2015, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2225 to expand the tools available to child protection actors to gather information, report on and respond to the abduction of children by adding the violation as a trigger to list parties to conflict in the annexes of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict.