June 22 (UPI) -- The number of grave violations committed against children last year was "alarmingly high," according to a United Nations report that stated the COVID-19 pandemic worsened existing vulnerabilities children face.
The annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict said Monday that the United Nations had verified 24,000 grave violations committed against about 20,000 children in 2020 in 21 conflict areas.
"Escalation of conflict, armed clashes and disregard for international humanitarian law and international human rights law had a severe impact on the protection of children," the report states.
The recruitment of children, to do things like perform work and fight wars, was responsible for the highest number of violations (8,521), with nearly 7,000 being recruited to fight wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Syria and Myanmar.
The second highest violation last year was the maiming (5,748) and killing (2,676) of children.
Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were the locations where the highest number of violations were committed, the report said, as more than 8,400 children were either killed or maimed in ongoing fighting.
"The wars of adults have taken away the childhood of millions of boys and girls again in 2020," Virginia Gamba, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on Children and Armed Conflict, said in a statement.
"This is completely devastating for them, but also for the entire communities they live in, and destroys chances for a sustainable peace."
The violations that experienced the greatest growth last year were abduction and rape and other forms of sexual violence, the report said, explaining that abductions increased by 90% while forms of sexual violence rose by 70%.
While three out of four violations were committed against boys, girls accounted for 98% of all victims of rape and sexual violence, it said.
"If boys and girls experience conflict differently and require interventions to better address their specific needs," Gamba said. "What the data also showed is that conflict doesn't differentiate based on gender."
The report also noted that COVID-19 "aggravated existing vulnerabilities," including hindering children's access to education, health and social services. It also found that the pandemic's impact on socioeconomics exposed more children to being recruited, abducted and sexually violated.