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4 June 2018: “We are seeing an utter disregard for the protection of children in conflict” – UNICEF Chief

© UNICEF/UN0214511/Nesbitt
On 4 June 2018 in the United States of America, Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore, who has just returned from Mali, speaks at a press conference at UNICEF House in New York about the situation of children affected by wars around the world. Seated next to her is H.E. Mr Olof Skoog, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations and Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict

NEW YORK, 4 June 2018 – This are the prepared remarks of UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's joint press briefing with H.E. Mr Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, at UNICEF Headquarters.

“I have recently returned from a trip to Mali with the Secretary General, where children are suffering in silence, and are the missing face of the crisis.

“More than 850,000 children under the age of five are at risk of malnutrition this year, including 274,000 who face severe malnutrition and are at imminent risk of death. This represents a 34 per cent increase over our initial estimates for the year.

“More than a million children are out of primary school and another million are out of secondary school. At least 750 primary schools remain closed in the northern and central parts of the country due to insecurity.

“Mali is also one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of newborn and maternal mortality, with 1 in 28 babies dying in the first month of life and 1 in 27 women likely to die from pregnancy-related causes.

“Mali is one of many countries around the world where children are suffering greatly because of conflict.

“Yemen has the highest number of children in need at 11.3 million, followed by Syria with 8 million children and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 7.9 million.

“These are vast numbers, and the number of children affected by conflict is on the increase. It’s an issue that UNICEF is hard at work on, and we very much appreciate Sweden’s long standing interest and leadership on the issue of children and armed conflict. It is an issue the world needs to pay more attention to. Children are bearing the brunt of most of these conflicts.

“What we are seeing around the world is an utter disregard for the protection of children.

“In Syria, over 300 education facilities have been attacked since the beginning of the conflict 7 years ago. Schools should always a be a place of safety. Schools should always be protected.

“In South Sudan, around 19,000 children continue to serve as fighters, messengers, porters, cooks and even sex slaves for the warring parties.

“Conflicts are increasingly taking place in urban settings, causing significant damage to civilian infrastructure and damaging social protection systems.

“Water systems are being damaged: In Yemen, between August 2017 and May 2018, there were 5 verified attacks by the Coalition forces on water reservoirs and pipes, namely in Sa’ada and Amran governorates, affecting over 90,000 people.

“Hospitals and medical staff have frequently come under direct attack. In Syria alone, 92 attacks have been documented over the first four months of this year, involving 89 deaths and 135 injuries. In 2017, the World Health Organization recorded 322 attacks resulting in 242 deaths among medical personnel and patients.

“Hard won gains on education are being reversed. In Mali, the number of children out of primary school increased by 30 per cent since 2009. In Afghanistan, the number of children out of school increased for the first time since 2002, with 3.7 million children – nearly half of all children between ages 7 and 17 – now missing out on school.

“Harrowing violence inflicted on women and girls, often with life-long consequences and in complete impunity.

“In Cox’s Bazar, nine months after Rohingya refugees fled brutal attacks – that included killings, burnings and rapes – women are facing the stigma of sexual violence and the horror of delivering and raising babies in appalling conditions.

“The longer the conflict, the deeper the impact.

“We see this in the long unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, from the hundreds of Palestinian children who are detained in Israeli prisons each month, to the children in southern Israel who live under the threat of mortars or rockets landing in their homes and schools.

“We also see it in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where ethnic violence in the Kasai region has led to a massive increase in child recruitment, and where decades of war have weakened health systems, making the country vulnerable to disease outbreaks. An ongoing Ebola outbreak is the latest addition to the woes of the country and its children.

“In all these countries, UNICEF’s dedicated teams are working to deliver for children, often in extremely complex environments and sometimes at great risk.

“Examples of this work since the beginning of the year include:

  • In Cox’s Bazar, diphtheria vaccination for more than 400,000 children and psychosocial support for 140,000 children.
  • In South Sudan, measles vaccination for 460,000 children and release of more than 800 child soldiers.
  • In Syria, access to safe water for 13 million people and polio vaccination for 3.3 million children.
  • In Yemen, severe malnutrition treatment for over 61,000 children and access to safe water for close to 4 million people.

“But we need access and funds

“We need access to the populations we serve. We urge parties to the conflicts to allow humanitarian organizations to have unimpeded, unconditional and sustained access so that we are able to save lives.

“We need funds. Of the $3.7 billion we need for humanitarian programmes this year, we have only received 900 million – or 24 per cent – in 2018.

“Most importantly we need peace.

“Children need peace, but meanwhile, parties to conflict have an obligation to respect the rules of war – rules that prohibit the unlawful targeting of civilians, attacks on schools or hospitals, the use, recruitment and unlawful detention of children, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. When conflicts break out, these rules need to be respected and those who break them need to be held to account.”


Additional resources for media
Photos from the briefing
Multimedia assets of the Executive Director's trip to Mali
Multimedia assets on Children and conflict

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Joe English, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 917 893 0692,



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