January 7th, 2019
Children at War: 2018 Review
In 2018, humanitarian reports were defined by violations against children. Described by UNICEF as the moral crisis of our age, children in conflict were used as human shields, soldiers on frontlines and suicide bombers while atrocities and extreme expressions of violence continued with ‘near-total’ impunity in countries around the world. Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan and Burma were listed as four of the fifteen most dangerous places to be a child.
While news from Syria made fewer headlines in 2018, the millionth Syrian baby started life as a refugee. The UN also verified the deaths of 870 children from January to June, the highest number of child fatalities in a nine-month period since the start of the war. A generation has been lost to conflict; those who have survived the bombings, bullets and life-threatening journeys to safety, are now faced with unimaginable trauma.
Today, in Syria’s ‘de-escalation’ zones, extreme hunger and ongoing violence are devastating lives as a total of 5.3 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Watch the video below to see what life is like in the world’s most dangerous place to be a child.
Nigeria was listed as one of the countries in which children suffered extreme levels of violence over the course of 2018. Abductions, rapes, and the use of boys and girls as agents of terrorism were the latest efforts by Boko Haram to weaponise Nigeria’s children. Four years after the Chibok kidnapping, girls continue to be targeted as hundreds held captive in 2018 were forced into marriage, sold into sexual slavery, or became victims of ritual killings. In the most recent and disturbing trend in terrorism, children as young as seven were drugged by militants, strapped with explosives and sent into public places as ‘human bombs’. Children are violently targeted in Nigeria. In 2019, they face double persecution as attacks by the Fulani militia escalate.
In South Sudan, the scale of suffering was unprecedented. Children across the country became victims of indiscriminate attacks as violent clashes trapped many others in besieged areas. With a hunger crisis gripping the nation, many fighters on the frontlines were under the age of fifteen. Child soldiers, abducted by armed forces or recruited through the promise of food, are forced into unspeakable acts in order to survive. 40 per cent of children at war are girls who are not traditionally seen as “soldiers” and will not be reached by support or reintegration programmes, among thousands of others who have become ‘wives’ to militia members. War in South Sudan has redefined childhood, especially for those who are forced to fight, loot and kill. The futures of an estimated 19,000 children currently serving as soldiers will carry the weight of their experiences under conflict.
Military leaders guilty of crimes against humanity continue to persecute children in Burma’s ethnic states. Under genocide, an estimated 730 Rohingya children below the age of five were brutally massacred by the Tatmadaw, many burned alive or killed in beheadings. Over the past year, the UN continued to receive reports of crimes against the Rohingya, while news of atrocities in other ethnic states slipped under the international radar. In April, violent attacks escalated in Kachin, trapping thousands of children escaping to China in a landmine-infested jungle. As military powers continue to violate their rights, a culture of impunity makes Burma one of the toughest places in the world for children to survive.
The past twelve months marked one of the darkest chapters in modern warfare; children came under attack as hunger and rape were used as weapons of war, militant attacks on schools continued, and forced marriage, abduction and the recruitment of child soldiers were common tactics in conflicts from Syria to South Sudan. As a new year begins, international charities warn more must be done to protect children living in the most dangerous countries in the world.
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