06/19/2013 04:28 pm ET

Conflict Grave for Children in 21 Countries

Conflict, in Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, Myanmar and others, is taking a toll on the most vulnerable citizens -- their children. Despite efforts to protect them from violence, the United Nation (UN) reports children are taking the brunt of the rising anger adults are inflicting upon one another. Basically, children are caught in the cross-fire and are often used as shields and tools of war, and are viewed as sexual targets.

UN officials shared data with the Security Council Monday, which reviewed conflict among 21 countries. These included the regional conflict involving the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) whose activities impact children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.

"As new conflicts emerged or deepened in the course of the past 18 months, children continued to pay a heavy toll, perhaps the heaviest," the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in her presentation to the Council of the Secretary-General's 12th annual report on the subject.

"The absence of clear front-lines and identifiable opponents and the increasing use of terror tactics have made children more vulnerable."

Zerrougui added that, as in previous years, the majority of parties recruiting children are non-State actors.

The meeting detailed specific parties who engaged in the recruitment and use of children and their recurrent attacks on schools and hospitals, threats of violence against protected personnel, unprecedented sexual violence and the murder and maiming of youth in contravention of international law.

In January 2012, fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels began in Mali. As the conflict wore on, the area was North was occupied by radical Islamists, who used children as recruits.

Zerrougui said her office consistently receives reports that children are being forcibly employed by pro-government militias to perform various tasks, including participating in active combat.

"It is crucial to ensure that no children are integrated in the regular armed forces or forgotten in the reintegration process and that measure to prevent the recruitment of children be put in place," she said. "I call upon the Malian authorities to treat these children in line with international standards."

Zerrougui also stated military groups are occupying schools and detaining children for alleged association with armed groups. There is also great concern over the impact the presence of drones are having on children, who are constantly under enormous threat.

Also addressing the Security Council Monday was the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Yoka Brandt.

"They deprive children from accessing essential basic services, like schools and hospitals. And in the absence of immediate medical care, injuries can turn into life-long disabilities," Brandt emphasized. "The use of schools in military operations is of particular concern."

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, added the critical importance of the Child Protection Adviser (CPA) and stated peacekeeping operations and its immediate deployment, is a necessity when conflict arises.

"The report is a stark reminder that the situation of children in conflicts remains dire and that our sustained engagement, at both the political and operational levels, is vital," Ladsous said. "Child protection will continue to be actively addressed across mission mandates, including in political strategies and operational plans."

In Mali, a CPA will be deployed for the first phase of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This will better help identify and resolve issues involving children.

More than half of Mali's population is composed of children. The UN cites that children there are systematically killed, injured, have experienced repeated sexual assaults and are often recruited by armed groups operating in the northern part of the country. There are dozens of reports of children being killed or maimed by weapons, mines and explosive remnants of war during the French and Malian military campaign initiated in January 2013. Some of these injuries and fatalities were also a result of aerial bombardments.

Checkpoints and conduct patrols revealed boys, and some girls, between the ages of 12-15 were enlisted for battle in Mali. Children, who joined out of their own free will, claimed they did so in order to escape poverty.

The UN received reports of sexual violence against girls which are believed to have been "widespread and systematic in northern Mali" since January 2012. At least 211 girls were raped, forced to marriage or otherwise sexually abused.

"Peacekeeping missions contribute both to the negotiation and implementation of action plans to end recruitment of children in armed forces," Ladsous noted. "In addition, peacekeepers are receiving training on child protection and field operations to be able to respond appropriately to any child protection concerns they encounter in the field."

The 15-nation body said it remains "strongly concerned" about the continued high number of perpetrators who persist in committing such abuses in conflict situation "in open disregard of [the Council's] resolutions on the matter." It stressed its commitment to deal with perpetrators and welcomes the unity by its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict for "increasing pressure on persistent perpetrators of violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict."

In Syria, there are nearly 1.5 million registered refugees who have fled their homes in order to avoid the on-going conflict and sexual attacks on young girls and boys. It has been estimated over 14,000 have left Syria, in any given 24-hour period.

Fighting between the government and the Séléka coalition in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left 2 million children without access to basic education. In addition, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is said to be directly responsible for a series of abuses against children.

No one can deny conflict-induced experiences have a significant impact a child's psyche. These young children have found themselves homeless, often orphaned, are witnesses the most unspeakable violence, have seen their friends and family members raped and/or killed and seen firsthand the destruction of their homes and communities.