The widespread and systematic rape of girls in war zones is increasingly a characteristic of conflict in many parts of the world, a senior UN official warned in a new report on children and armed conflict. Such violations are often perpetrated in a rule of law vacuum as a result of conflict, and there often exists a prevailing culture of impunity for such crimes, said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-Generals Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Precise information, critical for combating impunity and for programmatic response, is difficult to obtain or verify, Ms. Coomaraswamy wrote in her latest report to the General Assembly on the issue. The Special Representative underscored the importance of protecting schools and providing education in times of emergency and conflict, noting a growing tactical trend of targeting students, teachers and educational buildings. In some situations, the fear of being attacked on their way to school or at school deprives girls of their basic right to learn and shape their future, said Ms. Coomaraswamy. In other places, schools are used as recruiting grounds and entire classes have been abducted to be used as child combatants. She said that under international humanitarian law, attacks on schools are regarded as grave human rights violations and going after those responsible is key to ensuring that schools remain safe havens. Education is also a central tool for conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery, stressed Ms. Coomaraswamy. Addressing education in peace agreements and in their implementation is a fundamental step towards reinforcing security, gender equality and economic development.