More than 10,000 children were killed or maimed in conflicts during 2017, according to a new United Nations (UN) report, which has prompted critics of the arms trade to accuse the UK of complicity in human rights abuses.
Citing “unspeakable” violence, the UN has verified more than 21,000 “grave violations” of children’s rights from January to December 2017, an increase from the previous year when 15,500 were reported.
The human rights abuses included gang rapes of children, mass abductions and hundreds killed in Yemen during air strikes on civilian areas.
In response to the report, critics have called for an end to UK arms sales to states with appalling human rights records including Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Children in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to suffer horrendous levels of violence. In Yemen nearly 700 were killed or injured in airstrikes by warplanes dropping bombs made in Scotland.
Disturbing new trends in conflicts were also identified including more use of children as suicide bombers and large scale abductions of minors, according to the annual report of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
The UK has sold arms worth billions of pounds to some of the countries named in the report including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq, Colombia and Somalia.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including grenades, aircraft, drones and Paveway IV missiles with systems produced by US arms firm Raytheon in Fife, Scotland.
The UK has licensed £542 million worth of arms to the United Arab Emirates since the conflict began, as well as selling arms to other regimes taking part in the ongoing bombing campaign.
Israel is also a long-term buyer of UK arms, with UK weapons having been used in previous assaults on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Arms sales to Israel – a state cited by the UN report for killing and jailing children – included targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. Total sales to Israel have been worth £350 million since 2013.
The UN report said that in Yemen 1,316 children were killed or maimed last year, with 51 per cent of casualties caused by airstrikes. 842 children were recruited by armed groups and there were 20 attacks on schools, with 19 of those attributed to the coalition.
Wherever there is war and conflict, children will always bear the terrible brunt of it. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Regarding Israel, the report said that data provided by Israel Prison Service in reply to a freedom of information request revealed that between January and December, a monthly average of 312 Palestinian children were held in detention.
The report also said that 15 Palestinian children were killed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip. Six schools in Gaza and Israel sustained damage.
Violence continued to severely affect children in Afghanistan, with 3,179 cases of children killed and maimed.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Wherever there is war and conflict, children will always bear the terrible brunt of it. Pouring weapons into conflict zones will only create greater instability and make things even worse.
“Right now, UK arms are playing a central role in the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen, but they are also being sold to human rights abusing regimes around the world.
“It’s time for arms exporting governments like the UK to take some responsibility and end their complicity in these abuses. The arms sales being agreed today could be used in war and oppression for years to come.”
Ross Greer MSP, external affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Innocent children are being slaughtered by weapons sold to brutal regimes by the UK. It’s not just the UK government involved in this despicable trade though, the Scottish Government is complicit in giving public money to the arms industry, including almost a hundred grand in a single year to Raytheon, Saudi Arabia’s missile system supplier.
“It’s time to end this complicity in war crimes. The UK government needs to end all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel and other human rights abusers and the Scottish Government must stop giving economic development cash to the arms trade.
“There’s no justification for using public money to support companies profiting from human suffering. In Scotland’s year of young people, the very least we can do is stop public money bankrolling the murder of children across the world.”
The report details the unspeakable violence children have been faced with. Virginia Gamba, United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence against children were disturbingly high, the UN found, with over 900 verified cases against boys and girls including gang rapes of children.
In Somalia, Al-Shabab abducted over 1,600 children many of whom would be recruited and/or sexually abused.
Massive cross-border recruitment by actors such as ISIL and Boko Haram was also documented. In a “despicable trend” in Nigeria, almost half of the 881 child casualties resulted from suicide attacks, including the use of children as human bombs.
Another trend was the denial of humanitarian access used as a tactic of war. Children in Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen were prevented from receiving life-saving support.
In Syria, 400,000 persons – including children trapped in besieged areas such as Ghutah and Rural Damascus – faced deteriorating living conditions.
“The report details the unspeakable violence children have been faced with, and shows how in too many conflict situations, parties to conflict have an utter disregard for any measures that could contribute to shielding the most vulnerable from the impact of war,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.
On behalf of the UK government, a Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The UK government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
“We will not license the export of items where we assess that there is a clear risk that they might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”