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Not Coming to Aid of Children in War Zones Is 'Moral Crisis of Our Age,' Says UNICEF

Congolese children pray as Msg. Fridolin Ambongo, the the newly appointed Archibishop of Kinshasa, delivers the homily during an early midnight mass at the Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Congo, on Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A year-end United Nations report says society failing children “is a moral crisis of our age” as children in conflict zones have increasingly “come under direct attack, been killed, maimed or recruited to fight, and used as human shields” while “world leaders are still failing to hold perpetrators to account for their actions.”

UNICEF added that “rape, forced marriage and abduction have become standard tactics in conflicts from Syria to Yemen, and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.”

“Children living in conflict zones around the world have continued to suffer through extreme levels of violence over the past 12 months, and the world has continued to fail them,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF director of emergency programs. “For too long, parties to conflict have been committing atrocities with near-total impunity, and it is only getting worse. Much more can and must be done to protect and assist children.”

Every 10 minutes, the agency said, a child dies from a preventable ailment in Yemen. At least 1,427 children have been killed or maimed in attacks during the war there.

In Eastern Ukraine, 400,000 children live and go to school within 12 miles of the “contact line” separating government areas from Russian-backed separatist forces, “where shelling and extreme levels of mine-contamination pose lethal threat to children.”

In Afghanistan, about 5,000 children were killed or maimed in the first three quarters of the year.

The UN estimates 4.2 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where violence is hampering the response to an ebola outbreak. In the Lake Chad basin, “at least 1,041 schools are closed or non-functional due to violence, fear of attacks, or unrest, affecting nearly 445,000 children.”

In Nigeria, girls are still targeted by Boko Haram, forced to wed jihadists or used as suicide bombers. In Somalia, more than 1,800 children were recruited as child fighters and 1,278 were kidnapped in the first three-quarters of the year.

UNICEF said the death toll for children in Syria — 870 — was higher in the first three-quarters of 2018 than any other first 9 months of the year since 2011.

“Today, more countries are embroiled in internal or international conflict than at any other time in the past three decades,” Fontaine said. “Children living through conflict are among the least likely to be guaranteed their rights. Attacks on children must end.”

UNICEF said warring parties should “abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water infrastructure.”

The agency also called on “states with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children.”