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Worst crimes against children in conflict reach highest level since records began

LONDON, 14 December 2023 – The number of ‘grave violations’ committed against children in war rose 13% in 2022, to the highest level since reporting started in 2005, according to new analysis by Save the Children. The numbers of abuses are expected to rise still further in 2023.

These violations represent the worst crimes that can be committed against children in conflict, from killing, maiming and abduction to sexual violence, recruitment into armed groups and strikes on schools and hospitals. 

The report - Stop the War on Children: Let Children live in Peace - shows that 27,638 grave violations were committed against children during conflict in 2022. That’s an average of 76 a day.

At 8,647 cases, killing and maiming was the violation recorded and verified the highest number of times.

This was followed by cases of recruitment and use of children in conflict, which increased by 20% to 7,610 in 2022.

These violations are also known to represent only a fraction of the true total. Some abuses are never reported, while others committed in 2022 are still being verified.

Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children UK, said while these trends were devastating, the number of violations against children is expected to be even higher in 2023 due to the conflict in Sudan and the ongoing bombardment of Gaza:

“It’s a terrible time to be a child in war. The global norms that were set up to protect children from the worst that can be committed against them are crumbling. The trends are all in the wrong direction – violations against children are increasing year after year.

“Even war has rules. The UK must defend them and uphold international law, whenever and wherever children are under attack.

“While the data is for 2022, we expect 2023 to be no better – indeed, we may reach new lows. The humanitarian crisis in Sudan – the worst displacement crisis on earth for children – has seen killing, horrific sexual violence, torture and maiming of children on a scale not witnessed for a generation.

 “We have also seen children bearing the brunt of the conflict in Gaza, where over a million young lives are on the line. We are seeing hospitals become battlegrounds, and food and water supplies cut off. A definitive ceasefire is needed now, immediately. Calling for anything less makes the UK Government complicit in the ongoing devastation.”

The report also reveals that in 2022, about 468 million children – one in six – were living in a conflict zone. The number of children living in conflict zones has increased steadily over time, with 2022 seeing a 2.8% increase compared to 2021.

Based on Save the Children’s analysis, the Democratic Republic of Congo was the worst conflict-affected country to be a child in 2022, followed by Mali in second place, then Myanmar.

To better show the prevalence of these violations against children, Save the Children has today launched a new website which makes combined data on these trends by location, type and date, publicly available for the first time.

Children consulted for the report said that decision-makers must ensure the protection of all children who spend their childhood in areas where there is conflict. Children are calling for protection from bombs, missiles and landmines, and from violence and abuse. They want to feel safe, especially in their own homes and neighbourhoods, with their families and with their friends.

When a rocket falls from the sky, it does not differentiate between a stone and a tree, and between a child and a young person.” - Palestinian children’s council, Gaza

Gudrun Østby, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said:  “The numbers of grave violations are extremely alarming. Especially since these verified cases likely represent only the tip of the iceberg. Any child growing up in conflict settings could be at risk of such violations. Our estimates for 2022 show one in six children were living less than 50 kms away from at least one conflict events. The international community must all its power to pressure warring parties to abide by international law and protect children.”




  • The six grave violations against children: the UN Security Council has identified six grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict: killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children in armed forces and groups; rape and other forms of sexual violence against children; abduction of children; attacks against schools and hospitals; and denial of humanitarian access to children. These grave violations were defined on the basis of their egregious nature and their severe impact on children’s wellbeing. In addition to the six violations, the annual UN has verified cases of detention of children since 2012 and presented them in the report. 
  • Updated data on the number of children living in conflict zones conducted by the Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo based on Uppsala Conflict Data Program’s Georeferenced Event Dataset (UCDP GED) cross-referenced with population data from Gridded Population of the World (GPW) and from the UN (2021).  
  • Analysis by Save the Children of the 2023 United Nations annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, based on data reported and verified in 2022. The analysis also draws on previous Save the Children mapping of the number of grave violations in the reports on children and armed conflict from 2005–22. Unlike the annual UN reports on children and conflict, we have included verified incidents of military use of hospitals and schools under the grave violation attacks on schools and hospitals when we add up the grave violations in each conflict setting.