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.’
UNICEF aims to help 190.8 million children in emergencies in 2021
In times of crisis, children suffer most. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Poverty and malnutrition are rising, inequality is growing, and the pandemic is upending the essential services that secure the health, education and protection of our children and young people.
Even before the pandemic hit, conflict and climate change were driving an unprecedented growth in the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance. Now, COVID-19 is making the situation even worse, threatening to create a lost generation.
UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2021 sets out an ambitious agenda to address the major challenges facing children living through conflict and crisis.
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: 2021 goals
COVID-19 unleashed a learning crisis, with school closures disrupting around 90 per cent of learners worldwide. This made learning even more difficult for children displaced or affected by humanitarian crises. In Venezuela, more than a million children have already dropped out of school, with a million more at risk of taking the same path.
Economic instability and disrupted services are also rolling back decades of progress, including in the fight against malnutrition – Yemen has seen a near 10 per cent increase in cases of acute malnutrition.
Meanwhile, conflict, climate change and economic instability are also forcing more children than ever from their homes. In Central Sahel, over a million children have been forced to flee because of armed conflict and insecurity – a 64 per cent increase from 2019.
Whether the result of deliberate action in conflict or new pandemic restrictions, humanitarian access is increasingly under threat. Basic services are even more stretched, and lockdown measures are constraining efforts to reach the most vulnerable populations. Despite these challenges, UNICEF and partners will continue to work tirelessly to support the most vulnerable children and their families, including displaced people, refugees, migrants and people caught up in conflicts or disasters.
Key humanitarian results for 2020 include:
Following the onset of COVID-19, UNICEF immediately mobilized to reduce transmission of the virus and ensure the continuity of life-saving services. This included equipping health-workers with protective personal equipment and oxygen concentrators; rehabilitating schools in Syria; providing safe water to thousands of people affected by floods in South Sudan; and treating more than 350,000 severely malnourished children in the Central Sahel.
UNICEF also redoubled efforts to ensure every child learns, expanding access to education for Rohingya refugees and innovating with partners to provide online and distance learning to millions of out-of-school children across the globe. Find out more about UNICEF’s response to COVID-19 here.
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.