Sexual Violence against Children in Conflict

Data collection of Sexual violence is critical towards protecting the rights and welfare of children

By Constance Ndeleko

It is estimated that, more than 462 million children live in conflict zones today globally. 72 million of them; 1 out of 6 live 50 kilometers or closer to conflict. Armed groups have perpetuated sexual violence against children in conflict from 1990-2019.

Ordinarily, all genders of all ages experience sexual violence nonetheless, women and girls suffer the most from these vulnerabilities essentially rooted in unequal power dynamics. Adolescent girls in particularly are at high risk of sexual violence in conflict settings.

Reports indicate that the number of children at risk of sexual violence committed by conflict actors is almost ten times higher today than in 1990. The number of children at risk fluctuates from one year to another.

The alarming findings indicate devastating consequences that sexual violence has for children, their communities and societies at large, to the lack of funding to address the issue.

The onset of Covid-19 that led to different restriction measures has immensely affected effective support to those who are going through these heinous acts of sexual violence with limited help.

Sexual violence in conflict is a weapon, whether it is used tactically or opportunistically. While children face increasing risk of sexual violence in conflict, the international community struggles to adequately address this human rights violation. The scale and gravity of sexual violence against children in armed conflict call for immediate and concerted action by the UN, states, donors, the humanitarian community, researchers and civil society to meet their obligations to ensure children are safe from harm.

When perpetrated by parties to conflict, rape and other forms of sexual violence are one of the ‘six grave violations’ against children in conflict that the UN monitors and reports on an ongoing basis. Together with killing and maiming, forced recruitment, and others, sexual violence is prioritized as an area of focus due to its particularly egregious nature and the severity of its consequences for children.

It has been documented that, low human rights standards in a country, including gender inequality and the existence of child rights violations, increase the likelihood of militarized and violent interstate disputes. Furthermore, gender and power inequalities in pre-conflict settings shape risks of sexual violence in times of conflict. (Save the Children)

Consequences of sexual violence tags a long trauma and other mental illnesses from the extreme vulnerability of the survivors, ridicule and ostracize, self-hate, early pregnancies, sexual transmitted diseases, school dropout, child and maternal morbidity and mortality, fear of reprisal, stigma and retaliation-discourage children from reporting.

The rise in child marriages associated with a conflict setting means that sexual violence could slip under the radar when it is perpetrated by an intimate partner.

Sexual violence remains difficult to document and its prevalence hard to ascertain due to numerous challenges: insufficient access and reporting mechanisms, stigma and fear of retaliation, lack of support networks and adequate services, as well as general under-reporting, which is also the case outside conflict settings. Even in peaceful contexts, it is estimated that approximately 80% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported.

These challenges are exacerbated for cases involving children. Hence, the number of verified incidents of sexual violence against children in conflict is likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg says, Save the Children

Sexual violence suffered by boys might be categorized more generally as “torture, inhumane acts or cruel treatment”, without recognizing sexual violence as a specific violation on its own. Additionally, a bias exists insofar as sexual violence in conflict is sometimes assumed to concern only girls, so that data documenting sexual violence against boys is scarce

There’s a clear need to: strengthen data collection on sexual violence against children in conflict, put children at the center of international action against this violation, address the underlying root causes and drivers of sexual violence against children, and end impunity for this egregious act.

Photo: Courtesy

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