Over 55,000 grave crimes committed against children in African conflict zones in five years alone

Tuesday 11 February 2020


There have been more than 55,882 grave violations against children in conflict affected areas in Africa between 2014 and 2018 according to new analysis by Save the Children [1].  This includes children being killed, maimed or sexually assaulted - despite commitments by African leaders to end all wars on the continent by 2020.


The last five UN Children and Armed Conflict Annual Reports reveal there has been limited progress made towards protecting children in Africa, since the African Union’s flagship campaign to “Silence the Guns” was launched in 2013. The agency is concerned that while some steps have been taken by African leaders to curb violent attacks on children, progress has been too slow.


Revealed ahead of the African Union’s (AU) 33rd Assembly in Addis Ababa on 9-10 February, the figures show there has been an increase in incidents of four out of the six UN-mandated grave violations against children in Africa in times of war since 2014.


The greatest increase has been in the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, which has more than doubled in Africa in five years [2].  


Since 2014 in Africa:


-          Over 11,000 children have been killed or maimed in conflict


-          Over 24,000 children have been recruited and used by armed groups


-          Over 4,600 children, mostly girls, have been sexually assaulted in conflict


-          There have been more than 3,500 attacks on schools and hospitals [3].


Stephen, 16, is from South Sudan. He survived an attack on his village but lost one of his friends in the chaos. He told Save the Children:


Fighting started immediately and everyone ran. We all ran into the bush. After that, we came back. I found the parents of that boy [my schoolmate], and I asked them, how is my colleague? They said, we have not seen him and we don’t know where he has gone… I said to the parents, this is so painful to me.


“Our government should ensure that children stay in a safe place, and not join armed groups. Our parents should advise children not to join armed groups but to go to school… Like this friend of mine, where we don’t know he has gone, and he has lost a lot of opportunities.”


Save the Children is calling on AU member states and all parties to conflict on the continent to work towards ending wars and to protect children during conflicts. Any child who has been forcibly displaced must be protected from recruitment into armed groups, trafficking and smuggling, violent extremism and radicalisation.


AU member states must also prioritize meaningful and sustained engagement of boys and girls affected by conflict in the decision-making processes that lead to actions to protect them, including in prevention, response and post-conflict reconstruction programs.


Mariam, 18, is a member of the Advisory Council for Children and Young People of Mali.


In Mali the situation of the children is really critical. We see children being killed, raped; some of them have seen brothers and parents killed in front of them. So many fields, schools and hospitals have been destroyed.


When I have met forcibly displaced children in camps, they were so traumatized they could not even talk about what happened. Some of them don’t have anything to eat, where they stay they are at risk of infection and disease.”


In light of the more than 3,000 attacks on schools across the continent over the past five years, Save the Children calls on all AU Member states to take stronger steps to protect education from attack and for those countries who have not done so to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. Current signatories to the Safe Schools Declaration must ensure it’s implemented.


Doris Mpoumou, Save the Children’s Representative to the African Union, said:


In 2013 African leaders came together at the AU in Addis Ababa with an ambitious plan to end violence and conflict on the continent by 2020 and create the conditions for a more peaceful and prosperous continent for all. Sadly, while some limited progress has been made, what we see today is an Africa still plagued by conflict and insecurity. As always, children are on the frontline.


“This African Union summit is an opportunity to revisit this ambition of 2013 and reflect on why the situation has largely stayed the same, despite commitments by leaders. AU member states and all parties to conflict on the continent must find consensual, meaningful and sustainable ways to end wars and protect children from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation. While we thank African leaders for the ongoing commitment to Silencing the Guns, we call on them now to add a sense of urgency to their work – real action needs to be taken to stop the war on children.”

Save the Children has been advocating for stronger national and regional mechanisms to protect children affected by armed conflict in Africa for nearly a decade. In October 2019, Save the Children co-hosted the inaugural Pan-African Conference on Children and Armed Conflict, in order to reinvigorate policy action in conflict-affected African countries, and develop a Road Map for action to protect children in during conflicts.