UN envoy: Up to 700 children in Iraq killed, hurt
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Up to 700 children have been killed or maimed in Iraq since the beginning of the year, some of them used as suicide bombers by the Islamic State militant group, a U.N. envoy said Monday.
The Islamic State group, which now controls a large swath of Iraq and Syria, has become a brutal violator of children’s rights, though not the only one, said Leila Zerrougui, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict.
Some children have been killed in “summary executions,” Zerrougui told the Security Council. She said the Islamic State group has ordered boys as young as 13 years old to carry weapons, guard strategic locations or arrest civilians, and has used other children as suicide bombers.
Zerrougui said her office has also received report of militias allied to the Iraqi government using children in the fight against the Islamic State extremists. She added that the whereabouts of numerous children jailed on security charges by the Iraqi government remain unknown since militias stormed the facilities were they were held in July.
She said there has been progress around the world in protecting children in armed conflict, including Chad ending recruitment of child soldiers and Yemen’s signing a plan with the U.N. to prevent recruitment of children in its armed forces.
But she said those gains are being overshadowed by violence against children in new crises, pointing to the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the conflicts in Gaza, Libya, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Mali and South Sudan.
In Nigeria, Zerrougui said targeted attacks on schools, students and teachers by Boko Haram killed at least 100 students and 70 teachers in 2013. She said she has received reports that Boko Haram has used boys and girls as young as 12 years of old in their attacks.
Zerrougui said she is also worried by reports that “armed elements” associated with government forces in northern Nigeria have committed grave violations against children.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said boys and girls have been among the primary victims of armed conflict this year. In the Central African Republic, he said more than 8,000 children are in the hands of armed groups from all sides, including the Lord’s Resistance Army which is active in the country’s southeast. In South Sudan, he said, all parties are recruiting children.
Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who is UNESCO’s special envoy for peace and reconciliation, told the Security Council he returned Sunday from South Sudan, where his foundation is training young people to build peace.
He said he saw the hair of some boys and girls in a camp in Bentiu turning red from malnutrition, hundreds of empty schools, and “perhaps worst of all, walking through the cities, I saw child soldiers wearing military uniforms and carrying guns.”
Whitaker, who has worked with child soldiers for 10 years, said supporting governments to end recruitment of child soldiers is “a paramount first step.” But he said helping child soldiers re-enter society through education, job training and other efforts is just as key.
“It is impossible for us to comprehend the magnitude of a child soldier’s pain: how deep his wounds, how heavy her burden,” Whitaker said. “Unless we are there to meet them with open arms, open homes, and open schools, their wars will never end.”