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In the past 10 years, over 2 million children have been killed in armed conflicts.

The changing dynamics of modern warfare have dramatically increased civilian casualties. Alarmingly, children are among the most vulnerable and are often the first to be harmed when conflict breaks out. As a result, special attention must be paid to the needs of war-affected children. In addition to being casualties of conflict, children are brought into wars for direct use as child soldiers and sexual slaves. The trauma of being forced to carry out, witness and endure acts of killing and torture does unspeakable physical and psychosocial damage to these children. This damage can be life-long, and interferes with children’s physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual health. 

  • 6 million children have been disabled as a result of armed conflicts worldwide. 
  • More than 1 million children have been orphaned through war. 
  • In countries where children are already vulnerable to disease, the onset of armed conflict may increase death rates by 24 times.

In the aftermath of armed conflict, the indirect consequences of war and the resulting long-term damage to children’s health become apparent. In refugee camps, children are often the last to be fed and clothed. Armed conflicts often force children to live in dangerous environments, have very little access to health care services, receive little or no food and water, and face an on-going fear of exploitation. These hazardous conditions have devastating health consequences and continue to interfere with children’s healing process. 

  • Many more children die as a result of disease and malnutrition caused by war than from direct attack.

Case Study: Iraq

Iraq has suffered more than a decade of conflict, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War and continuing with the US-led war in 2003. The consequences of war and sanctions have had a particularly harmful effect on children, who make up almost 50% of the population of Iraq. 

  • 1 in 8 Iraqi children dies before his/her 5th birthday 
  • 25% of children under five are chronically malnourished

Iraqi children are extremely vulnerable to the direct violence of conflict, but war also poses indirect threats to their health. During the 1990s, Iraq’s water and sanitation systems were severely damaged by war and sanctions. As a result, children are especially susceptible to waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid fever. Iraq’s healthcare system, destroyed by conflict, lacks the resources to cope with these problems. According to a doctor at the children’s hospital in Baghdad, in 2004, 30 young patients died because of the hospital’s deficient resources. 

  • In 1 month of fighting in April, 2004, at least 100 children were killed in Iraq 
  • 70% of child deaths occur due to preventable diseases like diarrhea and respiratory infections

Want to Learn More?

1. Graca Machel: Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. 

This is Graça Machel’s comprehensive report on war-affected children, written during her tenure as Expert of the UN Secretary-General on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.

2. Government of Canada: “War-Affected Children”

This website provides useful background information about the issues affecting children in situations of war and outlines some of Canada’s policies and projects in aid of these children.

3. UNICEF: “Health in Emergencies”

This website provides a general overview of the main threats to children’s health in times of war and conflict. It also discusses UNICEF’s child-focused approach to humanitarian aid.

4. BBC: “Children of Conflict: Wounded Children”

BBC offers some personal stories of children who have been wounded in conflicts around the world.

5. UNICEF: “At a Glance: Somalia”

This website offers a brief overview of the conflict in Somalia, with a particular focus on the effects it has had on Somali children.

6. Doctors Without Borders: “Bare Bone Facts about Somalia” 

Doctors Without Borders describes in detail the health problems affecting children and society in Somalia as a result of the war. Their website contains statistics, background information on the conflict, and info on programs designed to improve the health of Somali civilians.

Watch video footage from Musicians In The War Zone – Iraq.

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