The recruitment and sexual exploitation of children by armed groups in conflict zones is a threat to international peace and security, and violators must be brought to justice, UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told an open Security Council debate here on Wednesday.
"Fighting shatters more than infrastructure; it destroys the precious principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child," he said. "I urge the Council to consider action to strike a blow against impunity, and stop these violators from continuing to victimize children."
"We must send a strong signal to the world that those committing appalling crimes against children in conflict situations will be brought to justice," he added.
The secretary-general's report, which was presented to the Security Council, identifies 56 parties to conflicts in 20 countries that recruit children in violation of international law.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has expanded its operations across various borders in the region and has abducted 300 children since November 2008.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has reportedly approached children living in the southern border areas and offered them money to carry out activities on behalf of armed groups. A study conducted by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also documented cases of children being used by the Taliban to carry out suicide attacks.
The report also documents an increase in attacks near education facilities. From September 2007 to September 2008, 321 cases were recorded, compared to 133 cases reported over the same period last year, said the report.
Ban urged the Security Council to "ensure that schools are always protected" and "to keep schools running in times of crisis and to safeguard the right of education."
Speaking to the Security Council, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-general for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said identifying violators on a "list of shame" has been an effective step to deterring violators from recruiting child soldiers.
"Armed actor after armed actor have told me that they are determined to be removed from the secretary-general's annexes," she said. "In this sense, the power of the Council can and has made a tangible difference in protecting children from being recruited and used by armed forces and groups."
In a sign of progress, the report notes that more than 1,200 children have been released by armed groups in North Kivu, DRC, since the start of 2009, and 342 children in Burundi.
This year's report goes one step further than previous reports in that it calls to expand the mandate of the Security Council's monitoring mechanism by extending its focus to other violations that include child rape and the killing and maiming of children.
Not to expand the Security Council's protection framework "threatens to silence the suffering of thousands of children who are subjected to unspeakable crimes," Coomaraswamy said.
At the end of an eight-day fact-finding visit to DRC last week, Coomaraswamy said that 48 percent of victims of sexual abuse in the DRC are minors, and that 67 percent of those responsible are men in uniform.
The secretary-general's report documents a number of sexual violations against girls. In the Central African Republic (CAR), for example, 15 girls, mostly under the age of 15, were abducted and used as sexual slaves by the LRA.
In March 2008, five of the 15 girls released by the Union des Forces Democratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR) in the CAR reported that they were either raped or gang raped. All the girls were between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time of release.
Ban said he has never been "so outraged" as when he spoke with girls who had been sexually victimized. "Painful as it is to describe these atrocities, silence serves only to shield the perpetrators and perpetuate their crimes."
"The testimony of the victims ... made me more determined than ever to raise my voice to decry their suffering and demand action," he added.