Local women and children arrive at an abandoned clinic to receive medical care from the French military during Operation Barkhane in Ndaki, Mali, July 29, 2019.
FILE - Local women and children arrive at an abandoned clinic to receive medical care from the French military during Operation Barkhane in Ndaki, Mali, July 29, 2019.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - UNICEF says nearly five million children are the main victims of surging violence in Africa's Sahel region, subjecting them to gross violations of human rights, including abductions, recruitment as child soldiers, sexual assault and other forms of abuse.

A combination of factors is causing misery among the children and their families in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The U.N. children’s fund says increasing drought and flooding due to climate change are destroying the livelihoods of farmers and herders.

The agency says that is contributing to an increase in inter-communal violence over resources. In addition, the proliferation of extremist groups and armed groups is leading to an increase in the recruitment of youngsters as child soldiers.

UNICEF's deputy director of emergency operations, Meritxell Relano, told VOA families have no income and lack food, water and other essentials. All of that, she said, is having an impact on children.

“In addition, all this violence is affecting access to school and health…Schools have been attacked by these extremist groups. In other cases, teachers have been killed, etc., so children cannot go to school anymore,” she said.

Relano said children cannot access health and are not being immunized against deadly diseases. She said many of the more than 700,000 children who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition are not getting lifesaving treatment. She said bone thin children are a common sight throughout the countries of the Sahel.

She added escalating violence in the region is killing and maiming many children. During a mission to Burkina Faso at the end of last year, Relano said she heard testimony from girls she met in a camp for displaced people. She said they spoke about their horror at being sexually abused.

FILE - Displaced children wait for help at a village of Dablo area, Burkina Faso, March 2, 2019.

"The girls were telling us please give us some kind of occupation. Organize something for us to be in school. We do not want to be in the camp here the whole day alone. We feel unprotected. We feel fear. We feel that something bad will happen to us if we are not in school or being supported or protected,” she said.

UNICEF and partners are working to provide Sahelian children with urgently needed support and protection, education, health and other lifesaving needs. It says money is always a problem.

The children’s agency says it hopes the international community will support its appeal for $208 million to carry out its humanitarian operation in the central Sahel this year.

The semi-arid region stretches from Sudan on the east to the Atlantic Ocean on the west. It includes countries such as Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Those nations are known as the G5 Sahel countries.