Hizbul, JeM recruited, used children in Kashmir during clashes with security forces: UNSG report

Pakistan-based banned terror outfits Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen recruited and used children in Jammu and Kashmir during clashes with security forces last year, according to a UN report today.

The annual report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, covering the January-December 2017 period, said globally, over 10,000 children were killed or maimed in conflict last year while more than 8,000 were recruited or used as combatants.

The report covers 20 countries, including war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen and also the situation in India, the Philippines and Nigeria.

On the situation in India, the report of UNSG Antonio Guterres said children continued to be affected by incidents of violence between armed groups and the government forces, particularly in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and during tensions in Jammu and Kashmir.

Noting “grave violations”, it said three incidents of recruitment and use of children by the two terror outfits were reported in Jammu and Kashmir during clashes with the security forces.

“One case was attributed to Jaish-e-Mohammed and two to Hizbul Mujahideen,” the report said, adding that “unverified” reports also indicate the use of children as informants and spies by the security forces.

The UN said it continued to receive reports of recruitment and use of children, including by the Naxalites, particularly in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. “Naxalites reportedly resorted to the use of a lottery system to conscript children in Jharkhand,” it said, adding children continued to be killed and injured during operations of security forces against armed groups.

Citing government data, the report said 188 civilians were killed in Naxal-affected regions, but no disaggregated data on children were available.

In March this year, a 15-year-old boy was killed during the clash between the security forces and Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in Padgampora village of Pulwama district.

Guterres asked the Indian government to put in place measures to hold perpetrators of child recruitment and use to account and engage with the UN to end and prevent violations against children.

In Jharkhand, the report said, suspected Naxalites attacked a school in Khunti district, partially destroying it. With regard to military use, the occupation of over 20 schools was documented by the Central Reserve Police Force in Srinagar, Kashmir, in April.

“Increased tensions in Jammu and Kashmir reportedly also led to the closure of schools for varying periods, including in Rajouri (65) and Poonch (76) districts,” it said.

In Pakistan, the report said, the UN continued to receive reports of the recruitment and use of children, including from madrassas, also, the alleged use of children by armed groups for suicide attacks.

In January, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan released a video showing children, including girls, being instructed how to perpetrate suicide attacks.

The report said while age-disaggregated data on civilian casualties were limited, incidents of children killed and injured in attacks in Pakistan by armed groups were reported.

It cited a suicide attack in Sehwan, Sindh Province in February in which at least 75 people, including 20 children, were killed. Also eight attacks on educational facilities and students, including four targeting girls’ schools.

In March, unidentified people vandalised the Oxford Public School, located in Ghizer Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan, and threatened to bomb the school if female teachers did not cover themselves. Also, a girls’ school located in Qila Abdullah in Balochistan Province was damaged in an IED attack.

Guterres said he is “concerned” by the continued attacks on schools by armed groups, particularly the targeting of girls’ education. He called on the Pakistan government to prioritise measures to deter future attacks on schools.

In Afghanistan, there were 3,179 verified cases of children being killed and maimed in 2017 in the conflict-related violence. An increase in child casualties resulting from aerial operations remained a concerning trend, with 27 child casualties resulting from cross-border shelling out of Pakistan.

With reports of over 21,000 violations committed against children in 2017, Guterres expressed outrage over the rise in the number of children affected by fighting globally.

“Boys and girls have once again been overly impacted by protracted and new violent crisis. Despite some progress, the level of violations remains unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

The UN Chief reiterated that the best way to address this horrific situation is to promote peaceful solutions to conflicts and called on all parties to exert maximum efforts in this regard.

The UN’s expert on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, said 66 parties to conflict are listed this year – three more than in the 2016 report – with nine government forces and 57 armed groups being named.

“Among the most significant violations registered in 2017 were killing and maiming, recruitment and use and attacks on schools and hospitals, all of which registered a rise in comparison to the previous year,” she told reporters here.

Also worrying is the number of children detained for their alleged association with armed groups, she said, adding such as over 1,000 children in Iraq are held for their suspected affiliation with the Islamic State terror group.

She also said there were some positive developments, like the release of over 10,000 child soldiers from armed groups and forces.

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