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Plight of Children in Armed Conflict Worsening

FILE - Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, July 16, 2015.

A senior U.N. official warns that increasingly children are being killed, maimed, and recruited as soldiers and suicide bombers in armed conflict.

Leila Zerrougui was appointed the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict in 2012. She says the plight of children has worsened every year under her watch. 2015 is shaping up to be the worst year of all.

The United Nations is tracking the status of children in 20 conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and one in Latin America. Zerrougui notes six ongoing major crises are putting the lives and futures of children at particular risk.

She says tens of thousands of children are being killed and maimed, recruited as child soldiers and sex slaves, and forced to commit atrocities, mostly in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic and in Afghanistan.

She tells VOA children are specifically targeted for recruitment by extremist or terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. She says Boko Haram is the only group she knows that uses small girls as suicide bombers because they go undetected.

“You know that many of them do not know that they will be blown up with remote devices. You are aware of the killing of children in their schools, in their dormitory. Children that are ... abducted and forced to fight to be with fighters, and sometimes used as human shields," said Zerrougui.

Zerrougui says children caught by the authorities are no longer considered victims because of their association with terrorist groups. She says the children are arrested, often tortured, and usually placed in detention with adults where they are brutalized.

Zerrougui says no global figure is available on how many children are recruited by warring factions around the world. But she says the enormity of the problem can be estimated.

For example, the U.N. children's fund estimates all warring factions in Syria have recruited up to 16,000 children in the first nine months of this year. And there is evidence that in one instance Islamic State militants recruited 400 children in the first quarter of 2015 for their operations.