Five things you should know about children in armed conflict

Photo By: Carol Garrison/InterAction

The first thing that may come to mind when thinking about children in armed conflict is the use of child soldiers. Images of small boys and girls with faces covered in dirt and war paint, awkwardly hugging rifles close to their bodies that seem almost as tall as them, fill our minds.

According to War Child, children are used because they have not yet developed the concept of death, so they are considered efficient fighters. But being forced to fight isn’t the only way children are harmed during times of conflict: they are raped, abducted, denied humanitarian access, and attacked while at school. With the nature of conflict changing, it’s important that the humanitarian sector observes how these changes affect children who end up being the most vulnerable in times of despair. In today’s age, there is so much information readily available to us that it’s sometimes overwhelming to stay informed about everything no matter how important it is so here are a few points you should know about this issue.

1. There are six categories of grave violations against children.

The UN has defined six categories for violations against children: “killing and maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction of children.”

These attacks are targeted and carried out by armed state and non-state actors for ideological, ethnic, religious as well as military reasons. Prohibitions under international law have been set in place to make these violations illegal and force those who commit these atrocities to be held accountable for interrupting the learning of children and putting their lives at risk.

2. 2014 was one of the worst years in recent history for children in countries affected by conflict.

“Children are bearing the brunt of the conflict,” said UN General Ban Ki-moon.

No longer do the days of clear, open battlefields exist, instead schools are taken over and children are mobilized as defense mechanisms. This includes the use of children as child soldiers, suicide bombers, and sex slaves.

In Afghanistan for example, more children were killed or maimed in 2014 than the years since the UN monitoring of those statistics began in 2007. According to the UN, another way the nature of conflict has changed is through the use of “landmines and unexploded ordnances” which are a huge threat to children who may be playing outside.

3. War is not only an attack on a region or country; it’s an attack on education.

Across the world, places of education have been burned, bombed, and used by armed parties as bases for their war efforts. Since mid-2009, over 30 countries encountered a pattern of attacks on education by armed forces.

In Libya, 89 schools reported unexploded ordnances on their grounds in 2011, a problem that continued into 2012 and affected 17,800 students.

In Afghanistan a new university, Jamiyat’al-Uloom’al-Islamiya, was damaged in a bombing attack on February 8, 2011 after receiving letters accusing the university of distributing Western propaganda that was “destroying the minds of the younger generation.” This attack caused 120 students to drop out. 

In Iraq, at least 100 students were injured in May 2010 when a convoy of college buses taking children from Christian towns to classes was attacked. A car bomb exploded as the first buses passed a checkpoint. Almost 1,000 students didn’t go back to classes for the rest of the semester after this attack.

“Schools must be safe places of learning and development for all children and zones of peace. Those who attack schools and hospitals should know that they will be held accountable,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

4. When military tactics involve drone strikes and aerial strategies, children are likely to be killed or injured. 

When picturing a drone strike, you may think of battlefields and attacks on soldiers rather than civilians. However, with the changing nature of conflict this is not always the case.

On January 26, 12-year-old Mohomed Tuaiman was killed in Marib, Yemen by a drone.

In the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s January month report on Pakistan, they cited that between 2004 and January 31, 2015, 21% to 40% of civilians killed were children.

These are just some examples of the violence against innocent children who are caught in the middle of armed conflict.

5. The “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign aims to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces by 2016.

Since this United Nations campaign started in 2014, there have been many accomplishments regarding children’s safety. Yemen signed an action plan in 2014 to end the recruitment of children by their armed forces, while South Sudan recommitted to theirs in 2012. Chad was taken off the list of countries that recruit child soldiers due to their compliance with requirements. These and many other occurrences give the impression that many have showed commitment towards moving in the right direction.

This vital campaign will end in 2016. It’s important to keep in mind that military forces are not the only ones that suffer causalities in times of conflict. Around the world, schools are considered a safe zone from troubles at home or on the streets. But when these safe zones start to be destroyed or inaugurated into conflict for military use, innocent children are left with nowhere to go and become entrapped in conflict without a say.

Temi Ibirogba is studying Politics on an international studies track at Newcastle University. She is also an InterAction summer intern for 2015.