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.
More than 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and more than 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.