In 2019, more than 25,000 grave violations were committed against children, according to the UN. This includes killing, maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, abduction and the denial of humanitarian access. In 2019 non-state actors or “rebel groups” were responsible for two-thirds of all grave violations against children and the vast majority of recruitment of 7,747 child soldiers in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. The remaining third were committed by government forces.
Currently the only international agreement aimed at protecting schools and universities from attack and restricting their use for military purposes is the non-binding 2015 safe schools declaration. While hospitals have protected status in conflict under international law, enshrined in the Geneva convention, the safeguarding of schools is not reinforced by legislation.
Just 104 of the 193 UN member countries have signed the declaration. Israel, Russia and Saudi Arabia, all accused of attacks on schools and hospitals, are among those who have not.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, as leader of the coalition in Yemen, was returned to the list of countries who continue to commit grave violations against children after 683 died and 38 schools and hospitals were targeted in Yemen. It was subsequently removed from the list in 2020.