The nature of conflict has changed, putting children in the frontline in new and terrible ways. Wars are lasting longer. They are more likely to be fought in urban areas amongst civilian populations leading to deaths and life-changing injuries, and laying waste to the infrastructure needed to guarantee access to food and water. Attacks on schools and hospitals are up. The denial of humanitarian aid is used as yet another weapon of war. The international rules and basic standards of conduct that exist to protect civilians in conflict are being flouted with impunity.
Children are disproportionately suffering the consequences of these brutal trends; almost one fifth of children worldwide are now living in areas affected by armed conflict. We are seeing more children facing unimaginable mental and physical trauma; more children going hungry; more children falling victim to preventable diseases; more children out of school; more children at risk of sexual violence and recruitment by armed groups; and more children trapped on the frontline without access to humanitarian aid.
It should shame us all that last year saw the number of recorded grave violations against children in conflict rise yet again. We are living in the age of a war on children. I have seen the impact of conflict on Yemen’s children. The hospital waiting rooms were full of sick, starving children; so weak they didn’t even have the energy to cry. The tragedy of Yemen’s suffering – as in conflicts across the world – is that it is manmade.
Save the Children is working to help children living in conflict across the world including in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar, but the causes and impact of these grave violations cannot be confronted by aid agencies like us alone.
This is why we are calling on all leaders to stop the war on children.
This report sets out an international plan of action, which will make a real difference for these children. We outline three main areas for action including upholding standards of conduct in conflict, holding perpetrators to account, and investing in helping children recover from the physical and psychological wounds of war. In each area, we are proposing practical recommendations that both state and non-state actors can take to ensure that children are protected.
Our humanity demands that we act, and our future depends on it. If these children are left behind, we cannot fulfill the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals and lay the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous society. A society where we can guarantee survival, protection and hope for all children.
In our centenary year, we are more inspired and energised than ever by the tireless commitment and example set by our founder, Eglantyne Jebb. Just a few years after she founded Save the Children in 1919, Eglantyne presented a Declaration of the Rights of the Child to leaders from around the world calling on them to remember the ‘forgotten’ children. This declaration laid the foundations for what would later become the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty.
This reminds us that the suffering of millions of children should never be accepted as inevitable, and it reminds us of what is possible at this critical moment. There is still hope for children living in conflict today, but this will require concerted action from governments and non-state actors. We can and must stop the children of today from becoming the forgotten generations of tomorrow.
Save the Children International