The widespread and systematic rape of girls in war zones is increasingly a characteristic of conflict in many parts of the world, a senior United Nations official warned in an expansive report on children and armed conflict.
“Such violations are often perpetrated in a rule of law vacuum as a result of conflict, and there often exists a prevailing culture of impunity for such crimes,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General`s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
“Precise information, critical for combating impunity and for programmatic response, is difficult to obtain or verify,” Coomaraswamy wrote in her latest report to the General Assembly on the issue.
She said that the fear of reprisals and cultural taboos surrounding such crimes are among the obstacles to collecting information about the incidents and understanding the magnitude and scope of sexual violence against children, as well as bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Coomaraswamy spotlighted research indicating that boys are also vulnerable to sexual violence, especially during military operations in civilian areas or during military conscription or abduction into paramilitary forces, as well as in refugee and internally displaced settings, and in detention.
“Although cases of sexual violence against boys are sometimes reported, insufficient attention is paid to this particular dimension, and such violations remain largely undocumented,” she said.
The Special Representative underscored the importance of protecting schools and providing education in times of emergency and conflict, noting a growing tactical trend of targeting students, teachers and educational buildings.
“In some situations, the fear of being attacked on their way to school or at school deprives girls of their basic right to learn and shape their future,” said Coomaraswamy.
“In other places, schools are used as recruiting grounds and entire classes have been abducted to be used as child combatants.”
She said that under international humanitarian law, attacks on schools are regarded as grave human rights violations and going after those responsible is key to ensuring that schools remain safe havens.
“Education is also a central tool for conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery,” stressed Coomaraswamy. “Addressing education in peace agreements and in their implementation is a fundamental step towards reinforcing security, gender equality and economic development.”