World Children’s Day, marked on 20th November, is a moment to reflect on the very heavy toll paid by young people under the age of 18 in current conflicts.
In 2022, attacks on schools and hospitals had already risen by 112%, according to the report presented in June by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. The report identifies 27,180 grave violations in 2022, including 8,831 children killed or maimed and 7,622 recruited by armed groups or forces, in addition to rape, sexual violence and abduction.
The countries recording the highest number of violations in 2022 were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel, the State of Palestine, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Yemen. The real toll is even higher, as the rights violations reported by the UN only concern verified information.
The Gaza Strip, a “graveyard for children”
The attacks by Hamas on 7th October claimed the lives of 1200 Israelis, many of them civilians and including at least 31 children, according to the Israeli authorities. Over 200 Israeli hostages have since been held by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including at least 30 minors.
Reprisals in the Gaza Strip from the Israeli military have claimed more than 11,000 lives since the start of hostilities, two-thirds of them women and children. Of the 2,650 people reported missing, likely buried under the rubble, 1,400 are children. This heavy toll prompted the head of the UN, António Gutteres, to deplore on 6th November that Gaza had become “a graveyard for children”.
The resolution adopted by the Security Council on 15th November in favour of humanitarian pauses in the conflict places children at the heart of the international community’s concerns. It reminds all parties of their obligations in terms of international law and child protection.
“I welcome the child-centred approach of this United Nations Security Council Resolution, which is critical in a heavily populated area like Gaza where almost half of the population is under 18 years old,” said Special Representative Virginia Gamba. “The situation in Gaza is horrific and children have suffered from death, injury, and denial of humanitarian assistance and access; abducted children are also held in Gaza, while hospitals and schools are being destroyed. These are all grave violations in the children and armed conflict agenda. This situation must stop now.”
The deadly spiral of civil war in Sudan
Conflict also broke out in Sudan in 2023, leaving “a generation of children in Sudan on the brink”. The war waged by rival armed factions since 15th April has displaced four million people and driven 800,000 into neighbouring countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNICEF has received allegations of more than 3,100 serious violations, including the murder and mutilation of children. While 7.4 million children have no access to drinking water, twice as many are in need of vital humanitarian aid, and 19 million have not returned to school. This is the most serious education crisis in the world today.
In Ukraine, at least 525 children died in 14 months
Between the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24th February, 2022, and the end of April 2023, at least 525 children died, and at least 1047 were injured, according to the UN monitoring mission in Ukraine. This is in both government-controlled and Russian-occupied areas, with an overall toll of 9,000 dead and 15,000 wounded among civilians. The real figure is probably much higher.
The vast majority (87%) of casualties were caused by wide-area explosive weapons, including artillery fire, missiles and air strikes, as well as floating munitions attacks. Matilda Bogner, director of the UN monitoring mission, reminds us that “Behind every death there is an immeasurable human tragedy. This must stop now.”