|© UNICEF/ HQ99-0014/ Brandt|
|A Kosovar girl refugee looks out the window of a bus transporting refugees to UN and NATO assisted camps. Macedonia.|
An estimated 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and human rights violations and are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders.
More than 2 million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict over the last decade.
More than three times that number, at least 6 million children, have been permanently disabled or seriously injured.
More than 1 million have been orphaned or separated from their families.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 children are killed or maimed by landmines every year.
An estimated 300,000 child soldiers - boys and girls under the age of 18 - are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Child soldiers are used as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks and to provide sexual services. Some are forcibly recruited or abducted, others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination, or to seek revenge for violence enacted against themselves and their families.
In 2002 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force. It outlaws the involvement of children under age 18 in hostilities. As well as requiring States to raise the age of compulsory recruitment and direct participation in conflict to 18, the Optional Protocol requires States parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of 15.
During armed conflict, girls and women are threatened by rape, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking, sexual humiliation and mutilation. Use of rape and other forms of violence against women has become a strategy in wars for all sides. Investigative reports following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda concluded that nearly every female over the age of 12 who survived the genocide was raped. During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, more than 20,000 were estimated to have been sexually assaulted. Conflict also breaks up families, placing additional economic and emotional burdens on women.
Of the 25 countries with the highest proportion of children orphaned by AIDS, about one-third have been affected by armed conflict in recent years. Of the 10 countries with the highest rates of under-five deaths, seven are affected by armed conflict.
Children in armed conflict also routinely experience emotionally and psychologically painful events such as the violent death of a parent or close relative; separation from family; witnessing loved ones being killed or tortured; displacement from home and community; exposure to combat, shelling and other life-threatening situations; acts of abuse such as being abducted, arrested, held in detention, raped, tortured; disruption of school routines and community life; destitution and an uncertain future. Some even participate in violent acts. Children of all ages are also strongly affected by the stress levels and situation of their adult caregivers.