The UN’s top official advocating for children caught up in armed conflict issued new guidance on Monday designed to help expert staff on the ground protect children who are abducted, or who suffer other grave violations.

Special Representative Virginia Gamba, said the guidelines would aid monitoring and reporting on the abduction of children in armed conflict, and help “address this complex grave violation of children’s rights in times of war.”

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There are six grave violations identified by the UN which serve as the basis for gathering data and reporting, namely the killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of child soldiers; sexual violence against children; abduction; attacks against schools or hospitals, and finally, denial of humanitarian access.

Violations linked

“With the six grave violations against children in armed conflict being intrinsically interlinked, children often endure other grave violations during the time of their abduction and are recruited and used, killed, maimed, or sexually abused”, said a press release on the new guidance.

The guidance can “help inform the understanding of the grave violation”, as well as provide advocacy tools that can be used as part of efforts to end and prevent the abduction of children by parties to conflict.

“Even when released or if they managed to escape their captors, abducted children continue to face major challenges regarding their reintegration back into their communities”, said Ms. Gamba.

“Their needs must be addressed in a comprehensive and sustainable way, and we encourage the international community to continue to provide support to all those working on the children and armed conflict agenda on the ground who are doing outstanding work for conflict-affected children.”

She added that specialists in the field, were helping ensure that “wherever they are, all children surviving grave violations also have a chance to a new life, in which they can thrive”.

Steep rise

In recent years, the abduction of children has risen steeply in situations on the children and armed conflict agenda, whether to terrorize communities, target specific groups, or to force the participation of children in hostilities, said the Office of the Special Representative.

In response to this worrying trend, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2225 in 2015, and formally recognized the importance of holding parties accountable for abducting children.

The guidance note was produced by Ms. Gamba’s Office, in consultation with UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), and the Department of Peace Operations in the framework of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) Technical Reference Group.

“With a 90 per cent increase of verified incidents of abduction in 2020 and a sustained increase in 2021 at 20 per cent, there is an urgent need to ensure that all those working on monitoring, reporting, and advocating are equipped with strong tools to end and prevent the abduction of children, in line with the Security Council request.

“This guidance note on abduction aims at responding to this urgently pressing need,” Ms. Gamba added.

Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Burkina Faso, and nations of the Lake Chad basin region, saw the greatest numbers of children abducted in 2020 and 2021.

Girls increasingly targeted

Those most affected were boys, but girls have been increasingly targeted at an alarming rate, the guidance note suggests.

The abduction of children to serve armed conflict, in contravention of applicable international law, has dramatic consequences on the physical and mental wellbeing of children, their families, and communities, with possible impacts on the long-term peace and security.

Post-conflict considerations are also touched on in the new guidelines, such as including advice on helping to end and prevent abduction in peace processes and resulting peace agreements, as well as providing long-term and tailored reintegration programmes for released children.