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The urgent need to protect children living through conflict
by Save the Children, agencies
Save the Children has launched a Charter setting out key points to ensure that children are protected during conflicts. The charter forms the basis for a safer future for the 420 million children currently living in conflict-affected areas.
Children in conflict face severe and multiple violations of their rights, like killing and maiming, sexual violence, recruitment and obstruction of humanitarian aid.
The Charter, was presented at the launch of the Stop the War on Children campaign, outlines what states and armed groups can and must do to ensure children are protected from war and supported in their recovery.
Worldwide, around one in five children live in conflict affected areas, where they run the risk of being killed or maimed, abducted, or see their schools and hospitals bombed. Violations against children have nearly tripled since 2010.
In its report on paedeiatric blast injuries, Save the Children revealed that explosive weapons account for 72% of child deaths and injuries across the five world’s deadliest conflict zones – in 2017.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said:
“It is absolutely critical to have this discussion now, as millions of children suffer in conflict every day. The rights and well-being of children – including in conflict – should be a priority for all of us, and we need stronger and more consistent systems to hold to account the perpetrators of crimes.
The ten points are an important reminder to all governments of the commitments they have made to children''s rights. They reinforce the work being undertaken by many organisations to protect children in conflict situations."
The Stop the War on Children Charter is based on three pillars: providing safety by making sure that parties to any conflict adhere to international law and standards, pursuing justice by holding perpetrators to account and taking measures on the ground to ensure children receive all practical help they need.
Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt, said: “1 in 5 children are now growing up in areas affected by conflict, and those children are seeing and experiencing things that no child ever should. Homes, schools and playgrounds have become battlefields, and children end up trapped on the frontline. Explosive weapons kill and maim children indiscriminately, and aid is used as a weapon of war.
The world seems to be accepting an outrageous new normal of the conventions of war being treated with flagrant disregard, and children are paying the price. It is shocking that in the 21st Century we are retreating on a principle that is so simple – children should be protected.
“The failure to protect children in conflict not only robs children, but also their countries—and the entire world—of a better future. All governments and warring parties can make a difference by backing up the charter to protect children in conflict.”
Joint Statement, The Hague, Peace Palace:
Some 420 million children are living in conflict-affected areas across the globe. Almost one in five children run a daily risk of being killed or maimed by armed violence, they live in the fear of being abducted, sexually abused or recruited by armed forces, they regularly witness their schools or hospitals being bombed or go hungry and uncared for because humanitarian aid is denied to them.
What is being done to children in conflicts all over the world, is unacceptable.
We call on every government and every armed group to affirm and adhere to international laws, human rights provisions, rules and standards designed to protect children. Individually and collectively, we are committed to working towards a world in which:
All children are protected against killing and maiming. Schools and health centres are treated as zones of peace and protection. Every child is protected from rape and sexual violence. No child is recruited into armed forces or groups. All children in conflict are safe from abduction, detention and displacement. No child is denied access to humanitarian aid in conflict.
Violations of the rights of children in conflict are rigorously monitored, reported and acted on. Those committing, overseeing and ordering violations against children in conflict are brought to justice and held accountable for their actions.
Every child harmed or affected by conflict receives practical help and support to cope, recover and rebuild their lives. All children affected by conflict, including refugees and those internally displaced, have access to a good-quality education.
More than 29 million babies were born into conflict-affected areas in 2018, UNICEF said today.
Armed violence across countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen meant that, throughout last year, more than 1 in 5 babies globally spent their earliest moments in communities affected by the chaos of conflict, often in deeply unsafe, and highly stressful environments.
“Every parent should be able to cherish their baby’s first moments, but for the millions of families living through conflict, the reality is far bleaker,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
"In countries around the world, violent conflict has severely limited access to essential services for parents and their babies.
Millions of families lack access to nutritious food, safe water, sanitation, or a secure and healthy environment to grow and bond. Along with the immediate, obvious dangers, the long-term impacts of such a start in life are potentially catastrophic.”
When young children experience prolonged or repeated adverse and traumatic events, the brain’s stress management system is activated without relief causing ‘toxic stress’. Over time, stress chemicals break down existing neural connections and inhibit new ones from forming, leading to lasting consequences for children’s learning, behaviour, and physical and mental health.
Examples of the impact of conflict on babies and young children – given by UNICEF staff working in conflict zones – include:
“Some of the young children we see shake with fear, uncontrollably, for hours on end. They don’t sleep. You can hear them whimpering, it’s not a usual cry but a cold, weak whimper. Others are so malnourished and traumatized they detach emotionally from the world and people around them, causing them to become vacant and making it impossible for them to interact with their families,” UNICEF worker in Yemen.
“My son, five-year-old Heraab, finds himself in a community where he is constantly exposed to the sounds of explosions, smell of smoke, accompanied by the regular shrieking of sirens, be it police or ambulance, or the persistent honking of cars and motorbikes rushing the injured to hospital. He shudders and wakes up at night if a truck passes by with speed, sometimes shaking the windows of our house, thinking it must be another attack,” UNICEF worker in Afghanistan.
“Some of the children are scared and look very anxious, others are very aggressive. They are frightened of visitors and flee when they see visiting vehicles coming. The cars remind them of fighting, war weaponry they need to flee from,” UNICEF worker in Somalia.
“I’ve travelled to the hardest to reach areas of South Sudan to help provide humanitarian assistance to children who have been forced to flee their villages because of violence. With no basic services, no health facilities, poor sanitation, no food, and deep-set trauma, families struggle to survive. I see despair in the eyes of the children I meet. The conflict has taken away their childhood,” UNICEF worker in South Sudan.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which, among other things, governments pledged to protect and care for children affected by conflict.
Yet today, more countries are embroiled in internal or international conflict than at any other time in the past three decades, threatening the safety and wellbeing of millions of children. Hospitals, health centres and child-friendly spaces – all of which provide critical services to parents and babies – have come under attack in conflicts around the world in recent years.
Providing safe spaces for families and their young children living through conflict – where children can use play and early learning as outlets for some of the trauma they have experienced; and providing psychosocial support to children – and their families – are critical parts of UNICEF’s humanitarian response.
When caregivers are given the support they need to cope with and process trauma, they have the best possible chance of providing their young children with the nurturing care needed for healthy brain development – acting as a ‘buffer’ from the chaos around them.
“Parents who interact with their babies can help shield them from the negative neurological effects of conflict. Yet, in times of conflict, parents are frequently overwhelmed,” said Fore. “Ultimately what these families need is peace, but until then they desperately need more support to help them and their children cope with the devastation they face – 29 million new lives and futures depend on it.”

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Violence against children is widespread and pervasive but is not inevitable
by Marta Santos Pais
Special Representative on Violence against Children
July 2019
Every year, at least 1 billion children – half of the world’s children – experience violence.
Three in every four children under the age of 5 experience violent discipline at the hands of caregivers. Almost one-third of school students have been bullied by their peers at least once in the past month.
Children now account for 30 per cent of those who are trafficked, with the sexual exploitation of victims being the main driver of human trafficking.
Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than other children, while children from other disadvantaged groups also face disproportionately high levels of violence.
Refugee and migrant children often find that violence is a constant companion: driving them from their home countries, accompanying them on their journey, and waiting for them at their destination.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an ambitious vision: to build a world free from fear and from violence for each and every child.
2019 is a milestone year for this ambition. It marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified international human rights treaty.
The Convention makes a solemn promise to children by enshrining their right to reach their full potential, free from violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse.
Children are telling us loudly and clearly that they dream of a world of peace and non-violence, a world where they can grow up happy, cherished, supported, safe, confident and empowered, and where no child is left behind.
We must move ahead with a far greater sense of urgency. Every year, millions of children endure appalling levels of violence in their neighbourhoods, in schools, in institutions for their care and protection, online and within their homes. The cost for victims, families and entire societies is immense.
Violence often starts in early childhood and, as children grow, it becomes part of a grim continuum, with their lives engulfed by fear, pain and insecurity that undermine their health, education, development and wellbeing.
Too frightened to speak up, uncertain they will be heard, lacking the information they need to get help, and falling through the cracks of protective services, they miss out on the support to which they are entitled for their healing, recovery and reintegration.
There is a mounting consensus that violence against children is intolerable and can never be justified, and a growing body of evidence shows us how it can become consigned to the past.
There is no room for complacency: violence against children remains hidden and pervasive and new threats are constantly emerging. But violence is not inevitable, and the progress made to date provides powerful motivation to redouble efforts to secure children''s protection, anywhere and everywhere.
We know what works, and we know the unacceptable toll of violence to children, families and communities, as well as to the economy, human capital formation and the security of nations.
We hope that this report, by recognising progress made, demonstrating what is needed and highlighting what can be done, will chart a course for accelerated action and for an ever-growing movement to end the scourge of violence. Children deserve no less! And they stand ready to join as active partners and genuine agents of change.
# The report Keeping the Promise: Ending violence against children by 2030 gathers expert analysis from agencies who are committed to keeping the promise enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history: for every child to have a life free from violence.
* Keeping the promise: Ending violence against children by 2030 report (106pp):

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