Children Under Attack

Children are coming under attack in conflicts across the world. We can’t accept this as a ‘new normal.’

Marawi. A girl stands next to her family’s temporary home in a tented evacuation site.

The number of countries with violent conflicts is the highest it has been in the last 30 years. As of early 2018, nearly 31 million children had been forcibly displaced by violence and conflict, including 13 million child refugees and more than 17 million inside their own countries. Attacks on children continue unabated. From Afghanistan and the Central African Republic to South Sudan and Syria, warring parties are flouting one of the most basic rules of war: the protection of children.

Children have become frontline targets. This is a moral crisis of our age: We must never accept this as the ‘new normal.’

UNICEF aims to help 59 million children in emergencies in 2020

The needs of children in today’s humanitarian crises are immense, with protracted conflicts, climate related extreme weather events, natural disasters and health emergencies, affecting entire generations of children.

The number of countries experiencing conflict is at its highest point since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Children have become frontline targets, resulting in death, serious injury and lasting trauma. Humanitarian emergencies also deprive children of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs. 

Humanitarian Action for Children 2020 underscores the urgency of protecting children in crisis from all such threats to their lives, well-being and dignity.

Children and young people living through crises have not lost hope. They haven’t given up on their dreams and futures. It’s our collective responsibility to respond.

Humanitarian Action for Children: 2020 goals

Innovative and cost-effective initiatives such as community-based education in Afghanistan and radio programming in Burkina Faso, for example, provide alternative learning opportunities for children when schools are too dangerous to attend. UNICEF also provides training for community members, including teachers, to cope with traumatic events themselves and nurture children under stress.

From the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh to the outflow of families from Central America seeking a safer and more dignified life to the crisis in Syria, children have been uprooted by violence in historic numbers. UNICEF and partners have responded to emergencies in 61 countries so far in 2019, providing humanitarian assistance to around 29 million children.

Key humanitarian results for 2019* include:

In the first eight months of the year, UNICEF provided humanitarian assistance to nearly 29 million children. In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF worked with local partners, community and religious leaders, the media and businesses to bring life-saving information about the Ebola virus. In Yemen, we provided mental health and psychosocial support to nearly 400,000 children and caregivers facing the horrors of war and displacement. In Venezuela, we vaccinated more than 280,000 children to protect them from measles. In Mozambique, after two devastating cyclones, UNICEF improved access to safe water.

But the challenges persist. UNICEF is providing immediate lifesaving assistance to children impacted by emergencies while also providing children with the support to better cope, to recover from the horrors they’ve lived through, and ultimately to thrive again.


Stop attacks on children

Ultimately children need peace to thrive. It is critical for children that efforts to end today’s seemingly endless armed conflicts are redoubled. But children cannot wait for protection – while wars continue, we must never accept attacks against children.

Thirty years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and 70 years since the four Geneva Conventions – the international legal bedrock to protect civilians in war – it is time to say “Enough! Stop attacks on children."

What we can all do to make change happen

Citizens everywhere can begin by not averting their gaze from children’s suffering, because it seems too distant or the politics of conflict too complex.

We must insist to national and international leaders that protecting children during armed conflict is the cornerstone of our shared humanity.

We must demand leadership which is prepared to act to prevent attacks and violence against children trapped in war zones.

Governments and all warring parties where conflicts rage must act to fulfil their obligations to protect children and enable access to specialized response services for children affected by violence.

Communities in conflict-affected areas must be supported to create protective environments for girls and boys.

Governments who support or who have influence over warring parties must use all their influence to insist children are protected according to the requirements of international law.

International peace and security institutions such as the United Nations Security Council and regional organizations can do more to prioritize the safety and well-being of children trapped in armed conflicts.

The international community can do more to support programmes which work to protect children from violence, abuse, and exploitation, and deliver the services needed to help children come through conflict with hope for a better future.

By protecting children from attacks in armed conflict, we keep hope alive, we begin to prepare children to shape peaceful futures for themselves and their countries. Acting together, we can turn back this deadly ‘new normal’ of attacks against children and preserve humanity.

Children cannot wait. We must act now.