NEW YORK, 5 November 2007 – UNICEF marked the first Global Day of Action on Cluster Munitions by calling on governments to develop a legally binding instrument prohibiting cluster munitions – a deadly and damaging threat to innocent civilians, especially children.
The terrible impact of cluster munitions on children, both during conflicts and after they cease, has been demonstrated in many places around the world. Attention was drawn to their potential to kill and maim during events in Lebanon in 2006. But children continue to fall victim to cluster munitions in countries where they were last used years -- or even decades -- ago, such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Serbia and Viet Nam. Even when the fighting is over, cluster munitions can pose a real threat to the fulfilment of the rights of children.
Children make up a significantly high proportion of all casualties caused by these devastating and indiscriminate weapons. In Afghanistan, for example, more than one-third of cluster munitions casualties were children. During the Kosovo war, more children fell victim to cluster munitions than to anti-personnel landmines -- terrible weapons in their own right which have correctly been prohibited by most of the international community. Too many tragic stories show that cluster munitions cannot be used in populated areas without jeopardising a child’s right to life, to health, to play and to a safe environment.
Children’s natural curiosity and desire to play, touch, and discover, become life threatening behaviours in environments contaminated with the explosive remnants of war, particularly cluster munitions. Everyday activities, like exploring after school, herding livestock, fetching water, or playing soccer, can be deadly.
Many cluster munitions are shaped like every-day items, such as balls or canisters. Others may be unusually shaped and brightly coloured, adding to their attractiveness to children. These factors, along with their wide dispersal in communities, render it more likely that a child will pick up unexploded cluster munitions.
A child who survives a blast may suffer permanent disability, blindness or loss of hearing. This sometimes leads to both that child and its siblings being deprived of schooling, because families have insufficient money to pay both medical bills and education-related expenses. The increased vulnerability that this causes will typically persist into adulthood, and social and community discrimination against disability can also negatively affect a child’s psychological well-being and his or her future.
When a parent or caregiver is killed or maimed by a cluster munitions, children also suffer due to increased family hardship.
UNICEF supports awareness-raising efforts in mine-affected countries, risk education and assistance to survivors. UNICEF also address the threats that landmines and other weapons with indiscriminate effects – such as cluster munitions -- have on all the rights of children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
About UNICEF UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.