Effects of war on children

Effects of war on children

“War exposes children to a whole host of risks – some of them unimaginable. The most obvious ones include the risk of orphanage, death, injury, displacement or separation from family. Losing access to health services also puts children at great risk as this can mean death or long-term effects following a simple injury or illness that has not been or cannot be cured.

A child without adult care is at risk of neglect and all kinds of abuse. For example, children may become easy targets for armed groups or forces looking for new recruits. They may be at risk of being trafficked. Additionally, armed conflict brings about general destitution that leaves many children with no choice but to take to the streets, begging or doing odd jobs – often very hard and underpaid – simply to survive. Of course, the risks differ depending on the age and sex of the child. Older children are more likely to survive on their own, but often face greater risks of abuse.

…children are all developing individuals in need of sufficient food, water and adequate health services. Vaccination is particularly important. …the lack of sufficient or adequate food… can be detrimental to the physical and mental development of a young person.

They also have the right to education, and, in many situations, access to education offers children a degree of protection and the life skills that are important in a situation of conflict and destitution. That said, being at school may actually expose children to additional risks. Schools are sometimes attacked directly, and may be targeted by armed groups or forces looking for new recruits.

Children who have been separated from their families during conflict need their parents back. They must, therefore, be given the opportunity to search for their parents and be reunited with them. While efforts are made to trace their families, these very vulnerable children need access to shelter, food, water and other basic services – in addition, of course, to support and protection provided by an adult.

I cannot think of anything as traumatizing as being separated from your parents at a young age, not knowing where they are and being deprived of their protection in the hostile environment of war.

Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, including …no fewer than 25 articles specifically mention children. Human rights laws also contain specific provisions on the protection of children against the effects of armed conflict. This is true of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Extracts from “Children and the ravages of war”, 17-11-2009 Interview with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) child protection adviser, Kristin Barstad.

“Conflict tears families apart, leaving thousands of children to fend for themselves and their siblings.

The number of children forced by conflict to flee their homes as refugees or IDPs in 2008 has been estimated at 18 million (emphasis and comment in parentheses mine: this of course has incrementally increased in the last few years due to an escalation of war and factional disputes in several key areas)”. 17-11-2009, Tivadar Domaniczky, ICRC.

“There are now more than 45.2 million displaced people — 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers and 28.8 million forced to flee within the borders of their own countries. Among the more shocking data released by the United Nations was this: of all refugees, almost half were below the age of 18 and more than 21,000 new asylum applications were submitted by children in 2012, the highest ever number recorded by the UN’s refugee agency. …and more unaccompanied children (emphasis mine) sought asylum last year (2011) than ever before.”

James Miller, June 19, 2013, Global Post

Compiled by Pia Horan, 15 May 2014

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