“2019 was a particularly deadly year for children”

Children swimming in a waterhole in Burkina Faso. Children swimming in a waterhole in Burkina Faso. © UN News

In Focus: 3-7 February 2020 by Phoebe Ohlin; Editor: Aleksandra Krol

 Children across the globe are exposed to dire consequences of conflict, whether they are caught in active conflict or living with the remnants of war, such as landmines or displacement. In her recent statement, the UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, that 2019 was “particularly deadly for children”. She stated,Children, their families and communities suffer the horrific consequences of conflict each and every day”.

 Despite progress on banning landmines, in recent years there has been a worrying trend of increased civilian casualties. The Landmine Monitor reports that 71% of all landmine casualties between 2018-19 were civilians. Moreover, children accounted for 54% of all civilian casualties (where their status was known), which constitutes a 7% increase since 2017. The Monitor also highlights the second-hand impacts suffered by children and families of landmine victims. Landmines are a human rights issue, with survivors and families needing extensive health care, rehabilitation, psychosocial support, as well as economic and educational opportunities.

As conflicts in Syria, Libya and Central Africa rage on, the continued lack of distinction between civilians and fighters has meant that children often represent the majority of casualties or displaced persons. Children are also extremely impacted by human rights violations during and after conflicts, with lack of access to education, food, sanitation and water, as well as sexual violence and recruitment into militias.

In Syria, nearly 4500 children are forced to flee their homes each day and at least 5 million children have been displaced by the ongoing conflict. As the conflict approaches its 10th year, civilian infrastructure including hospitals and schools continues to be attacked, severely impacting the lives of Syria’s children. Women and girls continue to be disproportionally affected by sexual violence, and, as a result, suffer severe restrictions on their movement, making access to school or healthcare increasingly difficult. On the other hand, boys, particularly those aged between 14-17, have been arrested and targeted for recruitment by militia groups  The UN also reports that large numbers of Syrian children now have disabilities and experience “devastating psychological and developmental issues”. In addition, as a result of the ongoing war, more than 2.1 million children are not regularly attending school. 

Libya’s longstanding civil war has meant continued suffering for Libyan civilians, particularly children. UNICEF reports that, as a result of the conflict, more than 150 000 people have been displaced, 90 000 of which are children. Additionally, 60 000 of these refugee children currently live in urban areas, affected by resurgent violence, and that over 15 000 of these children are unaccompanied. For civilians across Libya, access to essential services has significantly decreased, as civil infrastructure and schools are targeted in the intensifying conflict. Ms Fore has called for the end of recruitment of children for fighting, attacks on civilian infrastructure, and detention of migrant and refugee children fleeing violence in Libya.

In the central Sahel region, children face similar conditions. Across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. As conflict spiked across the region in 2019, children have been recruited into armed groups, killed or wounded, or forced to flee their homes. UNICEF reports that over 670 000 children have been displaced and over 3 300 schools in the region are no longer operational. It adds that this year more than 709 000 children under the age of 5 will require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition, as the region faces barriers to accessing essential services and food. As a result, UNICEF has called for an end to the attacks on children, and has appealed for additional funding to support operations and provide humanitarian assistance to help nearly 5 million children affected by conflicts across the central Sahel this year.

In their reports on these three conflicts, UNICEF has reminded all parties to conflict that obligations under international human rights law must be fulfilled, and children must be protected.  Ms Fore stated, “Children are desperate to grow up, go to school, learn skills, and build a future for themselves. We can, and must, do so much more to reinforce their extraordinary courage and resilience.”


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