On Friday, world leaders will gather at the annual Munich Security Conference to discuss global security issues.
Ahead of this meeting, Save the Children have released a new report ‘Stop the War on Children 2020: Gender Matters’ which reveals the continuing intensification of conflict for children.
The report shows that not only has the number of children living in conflict increased by 34% since 2010, children in conflict are increasingly at risk of experiencing grave violations of their rights. This experience is highly gendered – affecting boys and girls differently.
CHILDREN BEAR THE BRUNT OF VIOLENCE
Figures indicate that 415 million children worldwide are living in a conflict zone. Troublingly, of these children, 149 million are living in high-intensity conflict zones where more than 1,000 battle-related deaths occur in a year. In these intense, often protracted conflicts, civilians – especially children – bear the brunt of violence. They are killed and maimed by explosive weapons, denied their right to education, and suffer significant harm to their mental health.
A large proportion of these children will only have known conflict – in Yemen we’re approaching five years since the escalation of conflict in March. In Syria, 2020 marks nine years since the outbreak of violence.
A CRISIS OF INERTIA
Despite these distressing figures, we face a crisis of inertia, world leaders are standing by and allowing innocent children to suffer. They are failing to take the political, legal, financial and practical steps to turn the tide.
Crucially this year’s report also reveals how the six grave violations against children in conflict impact boys and girls differently. Social norms deepen in times of conflict. Girls’ access to education may become more restricted, and they are more likely than boys to be the victim of sexual and gender based violence. Boys may be forced into combat roles in armed groups – or even just perceived as fighters – and as such are more at risk of being killed and maimed. These are just two illustrations of the complex ways conflict impacts on children.
“I FELT IT, I FELT THAT I DIDN’T HAVE MY LEGS ANYMORE”
Shelling forced ten year-old Mahmoud’s* family from their home in Syria when he was just six months old. His family have been fleeing attack after attack, from shelter to makeshift shelter, ever since. Around a year ago Mahmoud was hit by more shelling. Both his legs had to be amputated – one above the knee and one below.
Mahmoud said: “We were besieged, and my family was hungry so I went to get them food. Then the shell hit me. They took me to hospital. I felt it, I felt that I didn’t have legs anymore.”
DETERMINATION AND PROGRESS
Six months later Mahmoud’s father was in hospital when it was attacked, and his father was killed. But with huge determination Mahmoud has made progress since his terrible injury and loss.
“I get dressed by myself, get changed by myself, wash my hands by myself, eat by myself and drink tea by myself. I’ve learned to do that.”
The facts and testimony presented in the report tell an unacceptable story – one of harm to children and inaction from the international community. As leaders gather in Munich they must prioritise the impact on, and needs of, children in conflict.
For instance, the UK has seats at some of the world’s most powerful tables as well as the resources, expertise and ultimately the responsibility to protect children. Unless countries like the UK work with their partners and allies to prevent harm to children, hold perpetrators to account, and support children to recover – the many millions of children living in conflict will continue to pay the price.
We must make children off limits in war. #StoptheWarOnChildren
*name changed to protect identity