A woman holds a malnourished child at a treatment center in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on July 5, 2020. (ESSA AHMED / AFP)
UNITED NATIONS – Armed conflict, intercommunal violence and insecurity continued to take a toll on thousands of children throughout 2021, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.
As a result of protracted and new conflicts, UNICEF has documented grave violations against young people in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and northern Ethiopia.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director, said conflict parties continue to show a dreadful disregard for children's rights year after year.
The number of confirmed cases of abduction and sexual violence increased at alarming rates during the first three months of 2021 — by more than 50 and 10 percent, respectively
"Children are suffering, and children are dying because of this callousness. Every effort should be made to keep these children safe from harm," she added.
In 2020, the UN verified 26,425 grave violations against children, but data is not yet available for this year.
ALSO READ: UNICEF: 19,000 migrant children cross jungle toward US
The number of confirmed cases of abduction and sexual violence increased at alarming rates during the first three months of 2021 — by more than 50 and 10 percent, respectively.
Somalia had the highest number of verified abductions, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and countries in the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger).
Verified cases of sexual violence were the highest in the DRC, Somalia and the Central African Republic.
This year marked a quarter of a century since the publication of Graca Machel's seminal impact of war on children report, which urged the UN and international community to take action.
There have been 266,000 documented cases of grave violations committed against children across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America in the 16 years since the UN began verifying such cases.
ALSO READ: UNICEF: Diet of young children has not improved over 10 years
UNICEF estimates that the actual numbers are much higher, according to the 2005 UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism.
Afghanistan has the highest number of verified child casualties since 2005. Globally, the country accounts for 27 percent of all verified child casualties with more than 28,500 incidents.
The Middle East and North Africa are home to the highest number of confirmed attacks on schools and hospitals, with 22 in the first six months of this year.
UNICEF stressed conflict-affected girls and boys are subjected to unspeakable horrors on a daily basis that no human should have to endure.
The first is the persistent and growing threat of explosive weapons, especially in populated areas.
READ MORE: Migrant children tell of misery in US shelters
Over 3,900 children were killed and maimed as a result of explosive weapons and remnants of war in 2020.
Children are often subjected to grave human rights violations.
Among the UN-verified cases of abductions last year, 37 percent led to the recruitment and use of children in war.
UNICEF is urging all conflict parties to establish formal action plans.
Only 37 such plans have been signed since 2005 by parties to conflict, which UNICEF called "a shockingly low number, given the stakes."
READ MORE: UNICEF alarmed by 'killing of 100 children' in Ethiopia's Afar
"Ultimately, children living through war will only be safe when parties to conflict take concrete action to protect them and stop committing grave violations," Fore underscored.