Children pay the price of adult conflicts around the world—and the cost is way too high.
A new report from UNICEF—the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund—paints a tragic picture of our world, where war, conflict, and poverty define daily life for millions of children.
The numbers for 2018 alone are staggering—30 million children have been forced from their homes by violence and insecurity. Those who remain in war zones face horrific and ongoing violations, including being recruited to fight, being used as human shields, being raped or forced into marriage, and experiencing severe acute malnutrition.
Those numbers are hard to wrap our minds around, but 30 million children is more than the populations of America’s 10 largest cities—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose—combined. And that’s just the children who have fled violence, not the ones still living in it.
“It is devastating,” Caryl Stern, CEO and President of UNICEF USA told Upworthy. “It’s been a year of conflict, and the children, because they are the most vulnerable, suffer the most.”
In some countries, more than half of children are in need of humanitarian services.
Parts of the Middle East and Africa in particular are dire places for children, though kids in Eastern Ukraine and Myanmar are also under duress due to conflict.
Stern shared with us some of the specifics:
- Violence and bloodshed remain a daily occurrence in Afghanistan. Some 5,000 children were killed or maimed within the first three quarters of 2018—equal to all of 2017. Children there make up 89 percent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war.
- In Cameroon, 93 villages have allegedly been partially or totally burned due to increasing conflict in the areas, with many children experiencing extreme levels of violence.
- The Central African Republic has seen a dramatic resurgence in fighting, and two out of three children are in need of humanitarian assistance.
- In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children are being forced into fighting and suffering sexual abuse by armed groups and militias. In addition, an estimated 4.2 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition (SAM), meaning they’ll die without intervention.
- In Iraq, children and families returning to their homes after heavy violence continue to be exposed to the danger of unexploded devices. Thousands of families remain displaced and now face the additional threats of freezing winter temperatures and flash floods.
- In the Lake Chad basin, at least 1,041 schools are closed or non-functional due to violence, fear of attacks, or unrest, affecting nearly 445,000 children.
- A recent surge in violence in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger has left 1,478 schools closed.
- In Myanmar, the UN continues to receive reports of ongoing violations of the rights of Rohingya remaining in northern Rakhine State, which include allegations of killings, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests, in addition to barriers to health and education for children.
- In northeast Nigeria, armed groups, including Boko Haram factions, continue to target girls, who are raped, forced to become wives of fighters, or used as ‘human bombs’. In February, the group abducted 110 girls and one boy from a technical college in Dapchi. While most of the children have since been released, five girls died and one is still being held captive as a slave.
- In Palestine, over 50 children were killed and hundreds more injured this year, many whilst demonstrating against deteriorating living conditions in Gaza. Children in Palestine and Israel have been exposed to fear, trauma and injuries.
- In South Sudan, more than 150 women and girls in Bentiu reported suffering horrific sexual assault. Relentless conflict and insecurity throughout the annual lean season pushed 6.1 million people into extreme hunger. Even with the advent of the rainy season, more than 43 per cent of the population remain food insecure.
- In Syria, between January and September, the UN verified the killing of 870 children – the highest number ever in the first nine months of any year since the start of the conflict in 2011. Attacks continued throughout the year, including the killing of 30 children in the eastern village of Al Shafa in November.
- In eastern Ukraine, more than four years of conflict destroyed and damaged hundreds of schools and forced 700,000 children to learn in fragile environments, amidst volatile fighting and the dangers posed by unexploded weapons of war.
- In Yemen, the UN has verified 1,427 children killed or maimed in attacks, including an ‘unconscionable’ attack on a school bus in Sa’ada. Every 10 minutes in Yemen, a child dies due to preventable diseases, and 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
"The earthquake, you can’t predict, or that disease we don’t have a cure for," says Stern. "But these are man-made emergencies, which is different than some other years . . . In the year 2019 we can do better, we must do better, we should do better."
Here’s how UNICEF is helping—and how you can too.
UNICEF helps the world's children by providing nutrition aid and water where needed, and also by ensuring access to education and creating child-friendly spaces everywhere they serve.
“We do that in the refugee camps, we do that along some of the long walks children are taking these days,” says Stern. “And we do that because we recognize that for future development, children need to be afforded the opportunity to just be a kid. They have to play, they have to sing, they have to dance, they have to have music, they have to be able to let some of what they’re bearing witness to out of them.”
Stern points out that creating child-friendly spaces helps free up parents to deal with the crisis they are facing and make a plan for what’s next. It also helps give UNICEF workers a chance to diagnose severe trauma and direct children to the services they need.
UNICEF is also “the plumber of the UN." They do all the water plans in addition to providing nutrition response and emergency aid. “UNICEF are the people who monitor the children on the ground in countries all over the world,” says Stern, “measuring arms, weighing babies, checking and trying to provide emergency response when it’s severe acute malnutrition.”
How can those of us who live in secure nations help? The most direct way, of course, is funds. Donations are always welcome at unicefusa.org.
"In addition to dollars, which are truly desperately needed,” Stern says, “I think the American people need to depoliticize the care and feeding of children. We need to understand that children don’t vote. Children don’t make decisions about where they’re going to grow up or which country they’re going to be born, they don’t get to pick where they’re born. Children are the innocent victims of the decisions of adults.”
“There is nothing political about saving the lives of children,” Stern adds.
Stern says that a society should be and is measured by how we treat children, and by that measure, we are failing.
“As long as 15,000 children die each day from causes we already know how to prevent, we’re failing,” she says. “Children are our most precious resource and it’s not okay that 15,000 die every day. And that’s not going to change until we—everybody—take responsibility and stops referencing them as Syria’s children, or Myanmar’s children, or Latin America’s children, or American children. They are children, plain and simple. And we need to protect and ensure their futures.”