Sanctions and their impact on children

Discussion paper | An assessment of the harm to which children are subjected in heavily sanctioned countries

A child wearing a medical mask standing in the middle of a dirt road the suburbs of Ahvaz, Iran


In recent years, sanctions have become an increasingly popular instrument for reprimanding and exerting pressure on states and non-state actors. Member States applying sanctions often count on broad public support compared to alternative, riskier and costly options, such as military interventions.

Notwithstanding a significant overhaul in the design and application of sanctions over the past two decades to strengthen their precision, the collateral effects of sanctions on civilians, especially children and vulnerable populations, are inescapable. We assess the harm to which children are subjected in targeted territories as a result of the economy-wide damage caused by sanctions and disruption to humanitarian operations. This paper focuses especially on the impact of ‘targeted sanctions’ which are being increasingly used.

Drawing on its experience navigating sanction regimes, UNICEF encourages all sanctioning powers to:

  1. Carefully design sanctions regimes
  2. Improve guidance and streamlining on humanitarian exemptions and licensing
  3. Safeguard banking channels
  4. Monitor and report on the humanitarian consequences of sanction regimes
  5. Conduct a legal review of sanctions regimes
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Zoë Pelter, Camila Teixeira, Erica Moret
Publication date
English, Spanish