Nine-year-old Hassouni stopped going to school after it was badly damaged by an airstrike during the battle for Mosul. His family decided it was time to flee the city, but they were hit by a car bomb in their attempt to leave.
Hassouni was then left in a coma but survived with a paralysed hand, constant pain in his arm and shrapnel lodged in his skull. His two brothers, one of them two years old, didn’t survive.
This is just one child’s story.
Our new report launched today shows that there are 420 million children – that’s nearly one-fifth of children worldwide – who live in a conflict zone and are at risk of suffering a similar fate to Hassouni and his brothers.
There are a number of reasons why this is happening. Conflicts are becoming more drawn out and fought in towns and cities with explosive weapons. Deliberate campaigns to bomb schools and starve populations rage on. And those who commit these crimes continue to escape all shades of accountability.
It is no wonder then that Save the Children’s research shows children living in conflict today are more at risk than at any other point in recent times.
So what difference can the UK Government make?
There are two things the Government can do to stand up for children in conflict.
1.Firstly, it can update its civilian protection strategy to strengthen its own conduct in war and set an example to the world to do the same.
The current civilian protection strategy does not mention children, and has not been updated since 2010. Yet as our report with defence think tank RUSI outlines, conflict is changing and new challenges need addressing.
Updating the UK’s civilian protection strategy would also receive widespread and global support. In their report on Global Britain and humanitarian intervention, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee called on the Government to update their protection of civilians in armed conflict strategy. We have also seen support right across Parliament too, including from MPs like Victoria Prentis, Shadow DFID Secretary of State Dan Carden and shadow FCO minister Helen Goodman. Peers like Baroness Hodgson have also made the case.
On the global level, the UN Secretary General’s annual report on civilian protection called on member states to strengthen domestic policies. And the UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Karen Pierce is driving this agenda in New York.
2. Secondly, the Government can raise the urgency of children’s protection in conflict wherever Britain has a seat at the table, including the UN, NATO and G7.
As one of the largest members of NATO, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a development superpower with strong military expertise and reach, the UK is in a strong position to champion the protection of children in conflict by not only improving their own conduct in war through implementing measures such as recording civilian casualties, but also by setting an example to other states to do the same.
We know from previous initiatives like British leadership on preventing sexual violence in conflict and global campaigns on issues like cluster munitions or landmines, changes in policy, practice and global norms have successfully limited the impact of attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
We’re also seeing the impact of UK global leadership on Yemen. The Foreign Secretary has led the charge since being appointed and since then the UK has managed to get two new UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen (the last one was three years ago), reignited peace talks with warring parties, and offered Yemen its first real hope of achieving peace.
Time and again we have seen British leadership make a difference for children.
Refreshing the UK Government’s strategy on civilian protection, and putting children front and centre – would not only respond to a growing demand, but it would help deliver transformative change for children like Hassouni.
Report: Stop the War on Children
Press release: Conflict kills 300 children every day