415 Million children worldwide are living in a conflict zone, including 149 million children living in high-intensity conflict zones where more than 1,000 battle-related deaths occur in a year.This number is highest in Africa, where 170 million children live in conflict. In the Middle East, the highest share of children, 1 out of 3, live in conflict zones.
Conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for children. Although children are raising their voices regarding the verified violations and dangers facing and impacting them, their voices are not sufficiently heard. Their potential is both under-recognized and underfunded.
Girls are at far higher risk of sexual and other types of gender-based violence, including forced and child marriages. Boys are more likely to be exposed to killing, maiming, abductions and recruitment. Easier to identify and verify are public-sphere violations whereby these involve boys. The accuracy with which boys, as victims, are reported is greater than violations against girls.
The spaces that girls occupy are often unseen or ignored by others, rendering experiences of sexual violence and violations against girls and children of diverse gender identities under-reported and invisible.
Some children are growing up knowing no other life circumstance than conflict and violence. The effects of conflict on children are multiple and wide-ranging. They include the physiological impact of explosive weapons; mental health
and psycho-social consequences of witnessing and
experiencing violence; and the socioeconomic impact– and egregious consequences for children’s rights – of eroding infrastructure, displacing communities and damaging basic services and support.
The exposure of large numbers of children to these harmful effects is driven by three core deficiencies:
• lack of compliance with international rules, laws and norms
• failure to hold perpetrators of violations to account
• insufficient practical action to support children and enable their recovery.
Growing up as a child in a country like Colombia
is really difficult. It is not easy to develop in
an environment where violence in all its facets
is seen and lived on a daily basis, and where children are not seen as actors in building a peaceful society. We hear all the time that children are the future. But those words are not accompanied by the actions of adults.
Abandoned by families and schools, many children’s development, education and participation are permeated with despair. In Colombia there are very few ways for children to participate. It is not in the culture to think that the voices of children count. If things were different, different stories could be born.
My dream for the children of my country is that we can grow up healthy and free to enjoy our childhood. That we can enter spaces where we feel safe to speak and know that our voice counts. And that we are taught and learn to live in peace from a young age. Parents must support their children in this – as with education, children’s participation in decision-making begins at home.
My message to world leaders is to recognize
that children in Colombia live in different situations and are affected by conflict in different ways. As children, we need opportunities.
Everything you do for someone matters, that is
where change begins.
José, children’s rights advocate,
age 15, Colombia
It is essential to recognize that conflict affects children in different ways depending on age, gender and disability. Boys and girls face different risks, have different needs, are represented in the data differently and require different types of support.
When Kalonji’s village in the Democratic
Republic of Congo was attacked by an armed
group, his father was killed and his home
torched. “Now I’m an orphan,” he says. “No
father, no mother.”
Kalonji fled with his brothers and sisters.
Alone, they walked 70 km to reach safety.
But in their new surroundings, day-to-day
survival is a struggle.
“There are days I don’t eat,” he says.
“I brought nothing [from my old home].
No books. I need clothes, a school uniform,
books and food.”
Kalonji is determined to get an education
and build a better future for himself and his
community. At school his favourite subject is
maths. “When I finish my studies here, I will
go to Lubumbashi to start university,” he says.
His dream is one day to become the head
of his school. “I’m studying to be the director
of the school,” he says. “I want to study so
I can train the children.”
Almost 18% of all the world’s children live in conflict zones. The four countries with the highest numbers are Nigeria, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, October 2019 marked 18 years since the start of the conflict between coalition forces and the Taliban. Every child in the country– 20 million children in total– was born and is being raised in a state of war. In Syria, in December 2018, the UN reported that after eight years
of fighting, 4 million children –half of the country’s children –have only ever known war.
In some places, it is a common expectation that boys will join a militia once they reach puberty. Girls often fill support functions, such as food prep and other domestic tasks, in addition to being abused and exploited as child brides of fighters.Forcibly married, these girls often find themselves abandoned, divorced or left widowed.
Women and girls constitute the largest single group of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder globally. Girls who were formerly associated with armed forces or groups and who’ve survived the violence need urgent adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and psycho-social support to address traumatic experiences.
The detention of children and deprivation of their liberty has increased. This includes those detained in child facilities, prisons or camps. During detention, children face torture and/or ill treatment, and have died in custody due to ill treatment or poor conditions. They become prisoners of war and to date no Geneva Convention or other international peace talk/guideline, has changed the fate of children impacted by conflict and war.
With conflict across the globe, particularly in black and brown nations, every time we endeavor to declare war on one another, as adults-win or lose- we lose. When children lose, we all lose. Children are our most valuable resource and our legacy. Exposing them to the absence of peace during their growing years, is dooming them to lives also filled with conflict and destruction.
It is abusive of adults to model conflict without peaceful negotiations and resolutions. The most important cause, not for, but against war and conflict, is because we wish for children to be children- happy, healthy, safe, supported and stable.
We must listen to their voices and hear their cries to understand how conflict impacts them and disrupts their childhood. Protecting children is protecting our humanity. As young and innocent as they may be, amidst it all, they do see that. Why can’t we?