By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis has repeatedly warned that across the planet, “a true world war is being fought piecemeal” and repeatedly he has decried the fact that so many children continue to be victims of conflict.
This reality was confirmed by a report, released on Friday by the global children’s charity, “Save the Children” that reveals that more children are living in areas affected by armed conflict than at any time in more than 20 years.
The report, entitled “Stop the War on Children: Protecting Children in 21st Century Conflict”, reveals that 420 million children – that’s nearly one in five – were living in conflict-affected areas in 2017, up 30 million from the previous year.
Save the Children’s Keyan Salarkia, one of the co-writers of the report, spoke to Vatican News about some of the report’s most salient findings.
Salarkia said the report sets out two core arguments, the first being that the scale of the problem regarding children in conflict is increasing, as is the scale of their suffering.
“One fifth of children worldwide live in conflict, which is the highest point since the end of the Cold War” he said.
Children increasingly at risk
What’s more, children in conflict zones are increasingly at risk.
One of the key findings that testifies the brutality of modern day conflicts, Salarkia explained, is that “half a million babies have died in the last five years alone in just ten countries”.
Another sobering fact is that 870,000 children have died in conflict during the same period, “before they have even managed to turn five-years old”.
“So, Selarkia noted, we are seeing both an increase in the number of children in conflict and increasing harm to those children”.
Ten worst countries for children
Selarkia said the report looks at a number of things including the combination of the number of children in conflict and their exposure to violations.
He explained there are ‘red-lights’ defined by the United Nations and that include recruitment and use in armed groups, sexual violence, abductions.
“Combining the two, we came up with a list of the ten worst places in 2017 and they include Yemen and Syria, tragic icons of modern conflict, but also places like South Sudan and Nigeria where in the last three or four years children have continued to be exposed to great risk.
Other countries pinpointed by the report are Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mali and Somalia.
100 years of ‘Save the Children’
Selarkia said the report coincides with 100 years of Save the Children which means that for at least the past 100 years there have been organizations and charities dedicated to the promotion and protection of children’s rights that respond to the needs of children.
“What we have seen particularly over the last 10 or 15 years, is less compliance with international rules and norms and the perpetration of violations like sexual violence, killing and maiming of children,” he said.
All this, coupled with the fact that those responsible are not being held to account.
“Those things combined, have led to environment where not only are children increasingly affected, but perpetrators of violence are not being held to account, and this recreates a pattern of violence against children” he said.
Selarkia said the report is officially being launched at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, a meeting attended by world leaders and policy-makers.
It includes an appeal to take action in three ways:
- Upholding standards and norms: not bombing schools, not attacking health care centers, not denying access arbitrarily;
- Accountability: making sure that where violations are taking place, individuals are facing justice;
- Pursue new ways to support children’s recovery from the horrors of conflict and take practical steps to support and protect children in crisis zones.
What can we do?
What we can do, Selarkia concludes, is to make sure that the people responsible for making these changes – our policy-makers and our government leaders – excert pressure so that those who are responsible for violence against children and for not protecting them be rendered accountable.
“So put pressure on your government, demanding protection for children in conflict and supporting the narrative that ‘children are children’: we need to re-establish the centrality of child protection”.