Tens of millions of children were negatively affected by armed conflict last year, according to a new report from United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon.

The publication noted “unprecedented challenges” in 2014, as “children in several countries affected by major crises, namely, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Israel/State of Palestine, Nigeria, South Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic, were exposed to the most egregious violations.”

Large-scale abductions were prevalent in 2014, “a tactic [often used] to terrorize or target particular ethnic groups or religious communities,” Ki-Moon said.

Abductions by militant groups such as the Islamic State (more than 1,000 children in Iraq and Syria) and Boko Haram (hundreds of Nigerian school children) were two examples cited.

Violence intentionally directed at children “to inflict maximum casualties, terrorize entire communities and provoke worldwide outrage” increased significantly last year.

Schools that teach Western ideas were frequently targeted, and a curriculum change was often demanded.

Military responses to these violent threats have been equally problematic, the secretary-general asserted.

“Military operations led by regional or international coalitions or by neighboring countries have resulted in the killing and maiming of children,” and they “have also been subjected to sexual violence and recruited and used by pro-government militias.”

In addition, many children have been detained and deprived of their liberty due to alleged associations with extremist groups.

Ki-Moon urged that children “should be treated primarily as victims and their rights protected at all times.”

Any trials of children deemed to have cooperated with extremists must be “consistent with international juvenile justice standards,” he said.

The report urged all governments to criminalize the recruitment and deployment of children in armed conflict, citing a newly launched United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) initiative seeking to end the use of child soldiers by 2016.

It also said that any military action must “be complemented by efforts to address the root causes that lead to the emergence of extremist groups.”

Fifty-one groups were cited for violence against children, including well-known groups such as the Taliban, the Lord’s Resistance Army, ISIL and Boko Haram.

After a detailed analysis of violence toward children in 25 countries, the secretary-general’s report concluded with a series of recommendations and observations.

These included a call for increased accountability via U.N. monitoring and reporting as well as the creation of initiatives to curb the recruitment of children for warfare and the establishment of plans to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers into society.

The full report is available here.

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