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In some countries already devastated by war, the situation for children is only getting worse. A new UN report makes for grim reading, with one shattering statistic after another. The deterioration in five countries – Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia - in 2015 is particularly alarming, especially considering the UN is able to document only a fraction of violations against children.

In Afghanistan, the report says one of every four casualties in 2015 was a child. On average, 53 children are killed every week, as the number of children killed and injured climbed to its highest level since 2008. The number of children recruited as soldiers doubled, and child abductions tripled compared to 2014, with the Taliban responsible for the majority of cases.

In Somalia, child abductions increased four-fold over 2014, with the Islamist armed group Al-Shabab seizing hundreds of children for use as fighters, sexual violence, and forced marriage. Government forces, militia, Al-Shabab and members of the Africa Union forces in Somalia were responsible for killings, sexual violence, and attacks on schools, contributing to a 50 percent increase in recorded violations during the year.

Rebel child soldiers gather in Gumuruk, as they prepare to hand over their weapons at a demobilization ceremony in Jonglei State, eastern South Sudan, January 27, 2015. © 2015 Reuters/Katy Migiro

In South Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and other government forces subjected hundreds of children to sexual violence, raping girls, castrating and sexually mutilating boys. Government and opposition forces abducted more than 1,500 children, mostly for use as soldiers, a dramatic increase over to 2014.

In many parts of Syria, education is impossible, with at least 6,500 schools destroyed, damaged, or no longer functioning as of the year’s end. Armed groups recruited hundreds of children, with the Islamic State increasingly targeting young children, training 10-year-old boys and recruiting foreign fighters as young as seven.

In Yemen, the rate of child recruitment increased five-fold, and nearly 2,000 children were killed or maimed in the civil war, a six-fold increase over 2014. Aerial bombardments by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition were responsible for the majority of child casualties.

The UN Secretary-General said he was shocked by the scale of violations against children. We all should be. The report is a damning indictment not only of the perpetrators but also of the international community for failing to protect children from the ravages of war. The Security Council should demand accountability and impose sanctions on perpetrators. Individual governments should also act, and withhold weapons from warring parties that commit these violations.

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