Hundreds of children in the Sahel were killed, wounded or forcibly separated from their parents in 2019, a UNICEF report revealed Tuesday.

Conflict continues to be rife in the semiarid region of western and north-central Africa and the agency, which focuses on child-related issues, confirmed 277 children were killed or maimed in Mali during the first nine months of last year.

The West African nation has been tackling an Islamist insurgency that began in the north of the country eight years ago and has resulted in thousands of deaths.

Read more: 2019 ends ‘deadly decade’ for children in conflict zones

Escalating conflict

The conflict has since spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, inflaming ethnic tensions in the Sahel in the process.

The entire region has witnessed a “significant increase of violence against children who are caught in the crossfire,” the report stated, adding that hundreds of youngsters had been forcibly separated from their families.

The warfare also forced more than a million people to flee their homes, of whom more than half are children — twice as many as in the previous year.

Furthermore, just shy of 5 million children are currently in need of humanitarian aid in the region, as more than 700,000 suffer from acute malnutrition in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to the report.

Read moreWill new measures to fight terrorism in the Sahel region be enough?

“We cannot help but be struck by the scale of violence children are facing,” said UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier. She added in her statement that “hundreds of thousands of them have lived through traumatizing experiences.”

France and the G5 Sahel nations — Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania — recently announced plans to reinforce their fight against terrorism in the region. But experts have cast doubt on the pledge, saying it won’t be enough to make the Sahel secure.

jsi/nm (AFP, kna)

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