Sudan: Children in conflict-affected areas continue to endure grave violations within unstable political context

Children in conflict-affected areas in the Sudan continue to be affected by grave violations within an unstable political environment and worsening humanitarian situation, highlighted the seventh report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Sudan.

The United Nations verified 520 grave violations against 445 children during the reporting period of January 2020 to December 2021 committed by Government security forces as well as armed groups. The main perpetrators were Government forces with the Sudanese Armed Forces having committed 61 grave violations and the Rapid Support Forces 32, followed by the Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) (60), and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Transitional Council (SLM-TC) (20), among others. Although the period witnessed ambitious reforms under the transitional Government and the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement, the military coup of 25 October, 2021, threatened years of progress towards peace and democracy and deteriorated the situation of conflict-affected children.

“Too many children in the Sudan are still being deprived of their basic rights and of the opportunity to just be children—to play and develop without the fear of being killed or maimed, recruited and used, and abused. We have also seen a disconcerting number of children affected by explosive remnants of war because too many square meters of land have yet to be cleared of mines. I call on all parties to act now and end and prevent all grave violations against children,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

The killing and maiming of children was the most verified grave violation with 356 children affected, accounting for more than two thirds of the total number of violations. The use of small arms was the leading cause (145) while the continued presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW) encountered by children mainly in Darfur states while playing or carrying out domestic chores accounted for nearly a fifth of all casualties (64). Teenage boys were most affected, representing over 90 percent of children killed or maimed by ERW.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence was the second-most verified violation, with 74 children affected, followed by abduction with 34. These trends were consistent with the previous report’s findings even though it covered a longer reporting period. Of the 74 verified cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, 73 were perpetrated against girls. This number was likely significantly higher in reality. Accountability for sexual violence in the Sudan remains low and underreported due to stigmatization, risk of reprisals, and inadequate support services for survivors, among others.

The report also verified an increase in cases of recruitment and use of children by armed groups, all in Darfur states. Eighty-six percent of these recruitments occurred within the four months following the signature of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020 due to armed groups’ recruitment drives following the signature of the Agreement.

Also worrying was the increased number of verified attacks on schools and hospitals, which accounted for 21 incidents, and of denial of humanitarian access that affected the delivery of life-saving aid to children in 10 different instances. The SRSG reiterated that schools and hospitals must be unconditionally protected from attack and from military use and that humanitarian aid must be permitted due the economic crisis, food insecurity, flooding, disease outbreaks and displacement, all of which are exacerbated by conflict.

The report noted that the fact that the number of violations in 2021 was lower than in 2020 did not indicate an improvement of the situation but was rather linked to access constraints to conflict-affected areas, the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reduced monitoring capacities after the withdrawal of UNAMID in December 2020. Therefore, the report does not represent the full extent of grave violations.

Progress for the Protection of Children in the Sudan and Political Developments 

The UN continued engaging with parties to conflict throughout the reporting period to maintain the gains of its 2016 Action Plan, which included engagement with armed groups on the implementation of their child protection commitments. Supported by the United Nations, the transitional Government drafted the Child Act 2021, a revision of the existing Child Act of 2010. As a result, civil registration regulations were amended and a new standard procedure for the birth registration of vulnerable children was developed.

Additionally, the United Nations worked with the signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement to develop a roadmap comprising both responsive and preventative elements to enhance the protection of conflict-affected children, which was endorsed by relevant entities in December 2021. The process included participation was by the Justice and Equality Movement, the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Malik Agar faction, all of which are listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict for the recruitment and use of children. This action reactivated two technical committees that have been instrumental in implementing the Government’s action plan. The SRSG urged parties to allow this to pave the way towards a National Prevention Plan on grave violations against children.

“With the fragile humanitarian, political, and security situation following the October 2021 military coup, which is concernedly impacting children, it is imperative to promote the prevention of grave violations against children to the national level, ensuring that the progress made in recent years in the protection of children in conflict situations is not negated. The United Nations stands available to support the authorities in these efforts,” added Gamba.

Note to editors: 

Overview of grave violations between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021: 

  • 520 grave violations against 445 children (287 boys, 157 girls, 1 sex unknown)
  • Recruitment and use of 25 children (21 boys, 4 girls)
  • Killing (120) and maiming (236) of 356 children (258 boys, 97 girls, 1 sex unknown)
  • Sexual violence and rape against 74 children (73 girls, 1 boy)
  • Abduction of 34 children (19 girls, 15 boys)
  • Attacks on 21 schools and 11 hospitals (32 in total)
  • 10 incidents of denial of humanitarian access