The number of minors fighting in the conflicts raging across the Middle East and North Africa has more than doubled in the last year, a new UN report has found.
The coping mechanisms of families particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have disintegrated after years of violence, displacement and a lack of basic services such as hospitals and schools, the UN’s child protection agency Unicef said in a statement on Monday.
While in the past Unicef had documented children recruited as guards, paramedics and porters, by the end of 2015 more and more minors were carrying guns and stationed at checkpoints or taking part in active fighting. The verified number of documented child soldiers rose from 476 in 2014 to 1,168 in 2015, the agency found – warning that the true figure was likely to be much higher.
In Yemen, there was a fivefold increase in the number of child soldiers in 2015 as the conflict between Houthi rebels in control of the capital, Sanaa and the internationally recognised exiled government intensified.
Ye more instances of child recruitment were found in Sudan and Libya.
Around 16 million children across the region are out of school, and almost one in five – 28 million – are now reliant on emergency humanitarian assistance, mostly due to the effects of war. Unicef said. Desperate parents are being left with few options other than to get their children to help bring in income, Unicef said.
“With no end in sight to these conflicts and with families’ dwindling financial resources, many have no choice but to send their children to work or marry their daughters early,” Unicef’s regional director Geert Cappelaere said.
In Syria, more than six years of complex conflict has forced around half the population of 27 million to flee their homes. The emergence of Isis as a deadly force across the country and neighbouring Iraq has led to fighting which has endangered another in the last three years. Recent fighting which began with the battle to retake Mosul has left five million Iraqi children homeless and in need of food and education.
“Conflict continues to rob millions of girls and boys of their childhood,” Mr Cappelaere consequences – not only for the region but for the world as a whole – will be dire.”