In the past two decades, a number of United Nations reports, including the 1996 study by Graça Machel and its 10-year review, have noted with concern that the character and tactics of armed conflict are changing. These developments have created new threats to children.
Children have become more vulnerable due to new tactics of warfare, the absence of clear battlefields, the increasing number and diversification of parties to conflict that add to the complexity of conflicts and the deliberate targeting of traditional safe havens such as schools and hospitals. Moreover, the increasing use of terrorist and counter-terrorist activities sometimes blurs the line between what is legitimate and what is not in addressing security threats.
Protection of children during military operations
The new characteristics of war including the use of new technologies, have led to greater risks to children during the conduct of hostilities. Wherever military tactics involve aerial attacks and drone operations, children are likely to be killed and injured. Although such attacks are not prohibited by international humanitarian law as such, they must not be disproportionate. Member States should exercise caution in adopting these military tactics and put in place effective protection measures to ensure zero civilian casualties during military operations.
Use of children as instruments of violence
Of growing concern is the use of children to carry explosives or plant explosive devices. In the past few years, we have witnessed an increase in the use of child suicide bombers and child victim bombers, those who are not even aware that they are carrying explosives and are detonated from a distance. Girls and boys, sometimes as young as eight, are often unaware of the actions or consequences of the acts they are instigated to commit. Such acts often lead to their own death and the killing of civilians, including other children.
Children in detention
State are also increasingly arresting and detaining children associated with armed groups, because they are perceived as a threat to national security or because they have allegedly participated in hostilities. Many of these children are kept in poor conditions in contravention of international standards in juvenile justice.
Attacks on education
A marked characteristic of the changing nature of conflict is deliberate attacks against education infrastructures, as well as the targeting of school children and teachers. Beyond the destruction and damaging of school facilities, there are also reports of the use of acid and gas attacks on girl students on their way to school, as well as shootings and suicide bombings on school premises. In some contexts, schools are also a prime recruiting ground for children. Elsewhere, school buildings are used as military bases that become strategic targets.