Children attend school in the town of Banki, which was recaptured by the Nigerian military in 2015 from Boko Haram, in Banki, Nigeria, 28 September 2017. For more than 8-years, Boko Haram related violence has devastated the lives of families and in particular children across northeast Nigeria. Nearly 1 million children have been displaced by the crisis and around 20,000 people killed, amid horrific violations of child rights. Children who have been killed, maimed and abducted, widespread sexual violence and the forcible recruitment of women and children as ‘human bombs’. Attacks on children, as well as children forced to carry out attacks, are so common that they are almost expected or accepted as part of the conflict. UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth, visits Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, from 27 September to 29 September 2017. On the trip, Forsyth visited a UNICEF supported clinic, providing inpatient therapeutic care in Maiduguri town. The clinic is providing critical support to children affected by severe acute malnutrition, including an intensive care unit. With Maiduguri hosting so many displaced persons, there is a serious strain on health services. Forsyth met a one month old boy who had been left in a bag by the roadside. Some people thought the baby was a bomb. However, Aisha a mother of seven other children realized it was a baby and rushed the boy, who is now named Mohamed, to the clinic. She is now the surrogate mother.    Banki on the border with Cameroon, has been almost been completely destroyed and now houses thousands of displaced persons who have gathered at a camp for their own safety and to access basic services. In Banki, Forsyth went to a UNICEF supported primary health care clinic that is helping to treat children with severe acute malnutrition, saving many lives. He also sat in on a class at a temporary school set up to provide some opportunities for children to resume school and have some fun again. The three schools in the town were destroyed and UNICEF is helping to rehabilitate one of the schools to provide better opportunities for the years to come.

The outgone year 2017 saw children in conflict zones around the world come under attack at a shocking scale all throughout  the year.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said parties to conflicts “blatantly disregarded” international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.

“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes.

“As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”

In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight.

Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.

In some contexts, children abducted by extremist groups experience abuse yet again upon release when they are detained by security forces.

Millions more children are paying an indirect price for these conflicts, suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma as basic services – including access to food, water, sanitation and health – are denied, damaged or destroyed in the fighting.

The year in bits of violence

Throughout 2017:

  • In Afghanistan, almost 700 children were killed in the first 9 months of the year.
  • In the Central African Republic, after months of renewed fighting, a dramatic increase in violence saw children being killed, raped, abducted and recruited by armed groups.
  • In the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violence has driven 850,000 children from their homes, while more than 200 health centres and 400 schools were attacked. An estimated 350,000 children have suffered from severe acute malnutrition.
  • In northeast Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram has forced at least 135 children to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016.
  • In Iraq and Syria, children have reportedly been used as human shields, trapped under siege, targeted by snipers and lived through intense bombardment and violence.
  • In Myanmar, Rohingya children suffered and witnessed shocking and widespread violence as they were attacked and driven from their homes in Rakhine state; while children in remote border areas of Kachin, Shan, and Kayin states continued to suffer the consequences of ongoing tensions between the Myanmar Armed Forces and various ethnic armed groups.
  • In South Sudan, where conflict and a collapsing economy led to a famine declaration in parts of the country, more than 19,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and armed groups, and over 2,300 children have been killed or injured since the conflict first erupted in December 2013.
  • In Somalia, 1,740 cases of child recruitment were reported in the first 10 months of 2017.
  • In Yemen, nearly 1,000 days of fighting left at least 5,000 children dead or injured, according to verified data, with actual numbers expected to be much higher. More than 11 million children need humanitarian assistance. Out of 1.8 million children suffering from malnutrition, 385,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if not urgently treated.

UNICEF calls on all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

UNICEF also calls on States with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children.