A United Nations expert finds the use of children by violent extremist groups to fight their battles is growing and becoming internationalized. The findings come in a report on Children and Armed Conflict submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, considers children to be the primary victims of war. While children continue to be recruited as soldiers by governments and rebel armed groups, she notes the emergence of several disturbing new trends.
Speaking in Geneva, she said the transnational nature of violent extremist groups has seen the emergence of transnational recruitment and involvement of children as foreign fighters.
“It is estimated that since 2011, between 30,000 and 42,000 foreign fighters from some 120 countries have travelled to Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic to join groups affiliated with Islamic State and/or al-Qaida. Those numbers include a significant proportion of children,” she said.
Gamba said a growing number of children are being detained for their alleged association with violent extremist groups that operate across borders. She said these children who have been exposed to some of the worst atrocities are treated as criminals instead of as victims. She said they should receive help to become rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
Last year, she said there was a significant rise in attacks on schools and the use of schools for military purposes, thus denying children access to an education. She said children are afraid to go to class because they may be exposed to abduction, recruitment or sexual violence by parties to conflict.
The U.N. expert says child abductions in situations of conflict also have risen. She warns abductions frequently are a precursor to other violations. She cited the example of Nigeria, where the militant Boko Haram has abducted hundreds of school girls. In many cases, she said, girls were specifically abducted to be used as human bombs.