Humanitarian crisis grows for world’s children
Converging forces of conflict and climate change, growing poverty and inequality, and the impact of COVID-19 are undoing decades of progress
UNICEF launches US$9.4 billion emergency funding appeal for children
The world is confronting a child rights emergency, with the converging forces of growing poverty and inequality; climate change and conflict; and the impact of COVID-19 undoing decades of progress.
In 2021, we continued to witness flagrant disregard for child rights in conflict and a yawning accountability gap for those responsible for grave violations. Child refugees were denied the care and compassion they deserve. Millions of children suffered from wasting. Escalating conflicts and the growing impacts of climate change pushed millions more children and their communities to the brink.
Yet, from Nigeria to the Central African Republic, Bangladesh to South Sudan, humanitarian appeals remain dangerously underfunded. UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2022 sets out an ambitious agenda to address these major challenges facing children living through conflict and crisis – wherever they are.
Humanitarian Action for Children: 2022 goals
Pandemic-induced service and economic disruption have upended child health and wellbeing. Rates of routine immunization have fallen to levels not seen for more than a decade. The number of children suffering from wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, could increase by 9 million by the end of 2021.
Escalating conflicts in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Myanmar have pushed millions more children and their communities to the brink.
Meanwhile, climate change is worsening the scale and intensity of emergencies. The last 10 years were the hottest on record and the number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Today, over 400 million children live in areas of high or extremely high-water vulnerability.
Through all this, we are seeing more children on the move than ever before – in 2020, more than 82 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. Across Europe and across Latin America, child refugees are being denied the care and compassion they deserve. Yet we are not seeing a response commensurate to the scale of the crisis, and from Nigeria to the Central African Republic, Bangladesh to South Sudan, humanitarian appeals remain dangerously underfunded.
Key humanitarian results for 2021 include:
UNICEF’s response in 2021
When the conflict in Afghanistan escalated, UNICEF teams worked tirelessly to keep health systems functioning, children learning, and get routine immunization back on track.
When devastation hit Haiti yet again, UNICEF teams coordinated an immense humanitarian effort and delivered safe water where systems and infrastructure had been destroyed; reunified separated children with their families; and within the first 24 hours, got essential medical supplies into hospitals.
Through advocacy and action, UNICEF has played a key role in the UN-wide COVID-19 response, including procuring and supplying COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, to ensure all countries have a fair and equitable shot at recovery.
And away from the headlines, UNICEF has been protecting children, keeping them learning and supporting child health and nutrition across worsening and complex crises in the Sahel, Somalia, and Sudan – navigating complex political situations with a resolute focus on reaching every child.
Children under attack
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 2020, more than 266,000 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.