SHAFAQNA- The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF declared 2014 a devastating year for children on Monday with as many as 15 million caught in conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Ukraine.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said the high number of crises meant many of them were quickly forgotten or failed to capture global headlines, such as in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Globally, UNICEF said some 230 million children were living in countries and regions affected by armed conflict.
“Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves,” Lake said in a statement. “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”
“Violence and trauma do more than harm individual children – they undermine the strength of societies,” he added.
In Palestine, a seven-week Israeli aggression on Gaza in July and August left some 538 children dead – 20 percent of the total civilian death toll – and 3,370 injured.
The worst massacre took place in the Abu Hussein School of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north, killing and injuring dozens even after the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said that it gave the school’s coordinates to the Israelis more than 17 times so they wouldn’t hit it.
UNRWA said 138 of its students were killed during the assault. The organization’s spokesperson Christopher Gunness said an additional 814 UNRWA students were injured and 560 have become orphans due to the Israeli onslaught.
The agency started training teachers in Gaza early October to provide psychosocial support to the 241,000 children back in schools in the area.
Moreover, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official said late November that more than 10,000 Palestinian minors in the occupied West Bank and annexed Jerusalem have been held by the Israeli army for varying periods since 2000,
According to a 2013 report by the UN’s Children’s Fund, Israel is the only country in the world where children are systematically tried in military courts and subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”
In Syria, UNICEF said more than 7.3 million children have been affected by the civil war, including 1.7 million who fled the country. In neighboring Iraq an estimated 2.7 million children have been affected by conflict, it added, with at least 700 believed to have been maimed or killed this year.
“In both countries, children have been victims of, witnesses to and even perpetrators of increasingly brutal and extreme violence,” UNICEF said.
Early September, UNICEF warned of an “education emergency” that Iraqi children were facing after being forced from their homes, with hundreds of schools used to shelter displaced families.
Similar issues affect children in central and southern Iraq and ongoing fighting across the country means that an unknown number of children are stuck in more violent areas that are impossible to reach.
Moreover, a UN panel investigating war crimes in Syria cited in a report in November cases of abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence against women and children, including the forced recruitment of minors by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The militant group that has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria abducted a group of children on May 29 as they returned to the Syrian town of Kobane after taking school exams in the city of Aleppo. It freed the final 25 hostages on October 29.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), during their six months of captivity, children as young as 14 were forced to watch videos of beheadings and were beaten with cables.
The UN report also said that the US-led airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq “have led to some civilian casualties,” including scores of children.
Meanwhile, some 750,000 children have been displaced in South Sudan with 320,000 living as refugees. The UN said more than 600 children have been killed and more than 200 maimed this year, while some 12,000 are being used by armed groups.
Nigeria has also seen troubling targeting of children in 2014 as part of an ongoing insurgency. Islamist militant group Boko Haram has abducted scores of women and girls, and has reportedly used children as young as 12 to fight in hostilities.
Several witnesses said they saw children in the ranks of Boko Haram during attacks and others who appeared to be aged between 15 and 17 manning checkpoints.
A man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in early November that more than 200 girls kidnapped by the group six months ago had been forced into marrying its fighters, and many have been pushed to convert to Islam. An estimated 300 girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok in April, causing international outrage but little action. Only a few of the girls have since managed to escape.
In Central African Republic, where tit-for-tat sectarian violence has displaced one-fifth of the population, some 2.3 million children are affected by the conflict with up to 10,000 believed to have been recruited by armed groups during the past year and more than 430 killed or maimed, UNICEF said.
The UNICEF report added that significant threats also emerged to children’s health and well-being like the deadly outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which has left thousands orphaned and some 5 million out of school.