Fighting for the rights of children in armed conflict

The number of children living in conflict zones has risen by 74% over the last decade

A displaced young girl and her sister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
26 June 2018

New York, United States of America, 26 June 2018 – As part of a United Nations discussion on children in armed conflict, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore called on humanitarian groups to “band together” for the safety and well-being of children.

During the discussion, organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ms. Fore highlighted how the number of children living in conflict zones has dramatically risen over the last decade by 74 per cent.

Forced displacement, separation from their family, trafficking and sexual abuse and exploitation are some of the terrible realities faced by children in countries affected by armed conflict. “In country after country, and community after community, the needs are growing,” said Ms. Fore.

During conflict, basic services like water, health and education, as well as family incomes, are all impacted. Added to these, a lack of humanitarian access can set in motion a downward spiral. “As each service falls away the vulnerability of children multiply,” she said.

Highlighting the magnitude of current conflict zones, Ms. Fore noted how hundreds of thousands of children had been driven away from their homes in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Yemen, the conflict has led to 2 million children out of school.

“A generation of children is at risk. We must help them.” Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director

A student stands in the ruins of one of his former classrooms.
UNICEF/UN073959/Clarke for UN OCHA
A student stands in the ruins of one of his former classrooms, which was destroyed in June 2015, at the Aal Okab school in Saada, Saada Governorate, Yemen, Monday 24 April 2017.

Calling for these conflicts to end, Ms. Fore also emphasized the need for zero-tolerance for the targeting of children and the denial of humanitarian access. Access in countries where children’s needs are the greatest is increasingly difficult. UNICEF’s purpose is to serve children, but UNICEF can only do so if all parties to the conflict – and their allies – grant full and unconditional access.

4 ways UNICEF helps children in armed conflict
  1. UNICEF’s Rapid Response Mechanism is at the heart of our ability to urgently support children in emergencies. In Iraq, in 2017, we reached nearly 1.3 million children on the move with lifesaving supplies like water and ready-to-eat rations.
  2. Taking a long-term development approach that goes beyond the immediate emergency: In Syria, for example, UNICEF supported the rehabilitation of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in 558 schools across the country in 2017, benefiting nearly 384,000 students.
  3. Engaging with all parties to a conflict in a non-political way, which is vital to negotiating humanitarian access and building trust on all sides as UNICEF seeks to serve children.
  4. Building new partnerships to reach children living through these conflicts, from local government to NGOs and local businesses. In 2017, UNICEF collaborated with a total of 1,328 civil society partners in the field for its humanitarian work.

Ms. Fore concluded on the importance of long-term engagements: “We are doing far more than serving immediate humanitarian needs — we are sowing the seeds of lasting development. And more, we are building peace."

The UN ECOSOC High-Level Panel Discussion “Addressing the impact of armed conflict on children –  strengthening the response to meet children’s needs” took place in New York City on 20 June 2018.

>> Watch a recording of the panel discussion