On this International Children’s Day, 1 June, and 4 June, the International Day for Innocent Children who are Victims of Aggression and War, the UK Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) draws attention to the plight of children caught up in areas of armed conflict.

“War affects children in all the ways it affects adults, but also in different ways. First, children are dependent on the care, empathy, and attention of adults who love them. Their attachments are frequently disrupted in times of war, due to loss of parents, extreme preoccupation of parents in protecting and finding subsistence for the family, and emotional unavailability of depressed or distracted parents [1].”

In other words, armed conflict causes the disruption and loss of their family life.

In addition children in areas of armed conflict may be affected by any of the following:

  • conventional and/or chemical weapons
  • land-mines and other unexploded ordinance (during and after conflict)
  • recruitment as child soldiers
  • use as human shields
  • torture
  • treatable diseases
  • psychological trauma
  • physical displacement
  • inadequate shelter
  • loss of education
  • malnutrition
  • lack of clean drinking water
  • economic exploitation / child labour
  • sexual exploitation, including rape, sodomy and sexual violence
  • child marriage
  • unwanted pregnancy

Some 90% of casualties in war today are civilians – many of them children [2].

In the Middle East in 2014, across Syria, Gaza and Iraq, some 11 million people had to flee their homes. Many of these are children – 30% of the population of Africa and the Middle East are under 15 years of age [3].

Syria is one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a child – the conflict there is now in its fifth year. Over 14 million Syrian children’s lives have been affected by the war: humanitarian aid is inadequate [4].

Sudan has endured some sixty years of armed conflict. The effects of war cross the generations and currently some three million primary school-age children are out of school [5].

UNICEF is currently reporting the kidnap of children for use as child soldiers in South Sudan [6].

In February 2015, UNICEF was reporting the recruitment and use of children in conflicts in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq and Syria [7].

In the Democratic of Congo some 2.7 million children have died [8]. One in seven Afghan children will not live to see their fifth birthday [9], and in Iraq over half a million children are without schooling [10].

Some 1.7 million children have been affected by the conflict in the Ukraine. Schools have been destroyed, some 136,000 children have been internally displaced, some are living in unheated underground bomb shelters. Of children under 5 years of age, some 1.5 million are not fully vaccinated against polio [11].

Countries currently monitored by the network of NGO’s, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict are [12]:

  • Afghanistan
  • Central African Region / LRA
  • Colombia
  • D R Congo
  • Iraq
  • Mali
  • Myanmar
  • Nigeria
  • Philippines
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

Children have no vote and no choice in the making of armed conflicts and war. Neither do they have a voice in the making of peace. In addition, the women who care for them within their homes and communities are too often excluded from peace negotiations and talks despite, the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on 31 October 2000.

Today, International Children’s Day, WILPF UK calls upon the UK government to address the root causes of child suffering in armed conflict by:

  • Stopping the supply of arms and ammunition to all belligerent forces
  • Stopping the manufacture of arms – both offensive and defensive
  • Stopping the recruitment of under 18 year olds (child soldiers) into the UK armed Forces

In addition we call upon the government to:

  • Provide additional ring-fenced funds to address the psychological trauma of war affected children
  • Place its verbal and treaty commitments to the Convention on the Elimination of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) and UNSCR1325 at the very fore of its foreign policy and diplomatic actions

All references are available here.