Children Under Attack

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

Afghanistan. A child stands in a damaged classroom.
UNICEF/UN0309065/Kokic

The number of countries with violent conflicts is the highest it has been in the last 30 years. One in four children live in countries affected by conflict or disaster. As of early 2018, nearly 31 million children have 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 assist 41 million children in emergencies

Millions of children living in countries affected by conflict and disaster lack access to vital child protection services, putting their well-being and futures at risk.

In humanitarian emergencies, violence against children can result in death, serious injury and lasting trauma. An insidious sort of violence also affects children when humanitarian emergencies deprive them of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs. Humanitarian Action for Children 2019 underscores the urgency of protecting children in crisis – from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Syria to Yemen – from all such threats to their lives, well-being and dignity.

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.