Children Under Attack
Children are coming under attack in conflicts across the world. We can’t accept this as a ‘new normal.’
Around the world, attacks on children continue unabated. The number of countries experiencing violent conflict is the highest it has been in the last 30 years. The result is that more than 30 million children have been displaced by conflict. Many of them are being enslaved, trafficked, abused and exploited. Many more are living in limbo, without official immigration status or access to education and health care. From Afghanistan to Mali, to South Sudan, Yemen and beyond, 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.’
To better monitor, prevent, and end attacks against children, the United Nations Security Council has identified and condemned six grave violations against children in times of war: Killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children in armed forces and armed groups; attacks on schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children.
Between 2005 and 2022, more than 315,000 grave violations were verified against children, committed by parties to conflict in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. The actual number is undoubtedly far higher.
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.
Protecting children from explosive weapons in populated areas
In conflicts around the world, civilians continue to endure the devastating consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). When used in cities, towns and villages, these weapons often have effects well beyond their targets. They claim countless lives and limbs, cause widespread destruction, and deprive people of essential civilian services, such as water and sanitation, electricity, health care and education.
On 18 November 2022, a new political declaration was launched: “Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.” The declaration, which had been signed by 80 states by 19 November 2022, sends a strong signal worldwide that harming civilians and damaging cities is not a reality we should accept by committing signatory States to restrict or refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Emergency funding appeal for children
Today, there are more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any other time since the Second World War. Across the globe, children are facing a historic confluence of crises – from conflict and displacement to infectious disease outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition.
More than 400 million children live in areas under conflict; an estimated 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children – live in countries at extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change; at least 36.5 million children have been displaced from their homes; and 8 million children under age 5 across 15 crisis-hit countries are at risk of death from severe wasting.
But the situation is far from hopeless. We know how to reach children at greatest risk and in greatest need. Decisive and timely humanitarian action can save children’s lives, while also sowing the seeds of future development.
Through the Humanitarian Action for Children appeal 2023, UNICEF is appealing for US$10.3 billion to reach more than 110 million children with humanitarian assistance.
Humanitarian action for children: Goals for 2023
In 2023, UNICEF and its partners will continue to provide a principled, timely, predictable and efficient humanitarian response in line with international norms and standards. UNICEF is also working on strengthening the resilience of communities and health infrastructure to withstand climate hazards, with the aim of better linking its humanitarian response to longer-term community resilience and climate adaptation.
Gender equality and inclusive programming: In 2023, UNICEF will continue to prioritize gender equity in humanitarian action – from preparedness to response and recovery.
Climate in humanitarian action: While much of the global focus is on mitigating climate change risk, investment in adaptation measures is required immediately to build resilience in a drastically – and rapidly – changing environment. UNICEF’s interventions focus on: (1) scaling up climate change adaptation models in global operations; (2) advocating and engaging in policy development; and (3) prioritizing climate-adaptive preparedness efforts as key elements to ensure timely, effective and cost-efficient actions to save lives and build resilience.
Global food and nutrition crises: UNICEF’s goal is to protect and promote diets, services and practices that prevent, detect and treat child wasting. UNICEF aims to ensure that no child dies from wasting. UNICEF will accelerate progress on two interrelated fronts simultaneously: (1) reduce the number of children suffering from the more severe forms of wasting; (2) increase the number of children with severe forms of wasting who access treatment. 👉🏼 Learn more about severe wasting
Public health emergencies: The annual number of outbreaks reported to the World Health Organization has increased more than threefold since 1980. UNICEF is committed to addressing public health emergencies not only through emergency coordination and leadership, responding to the health threat, but also by working to ensure the continuity of essential services.