Children do not start wars… We know that

By Sacha Westerbeek

The theme for this year’s Day of the African Child – Conflict & Crisis: Protecting Children’s Rights – is a pertinent one.

Visit to UNICEF supported Itang Special Woreda (District)
South Sudan refugee children play at a child – friendly space at Tierkidi camp in Gambela region of Ethiopia 9 June 2016 ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Conflict, fragility and insecurity are among the most significant development challenges of our time. Globally, more than 230 million children live in places fraught with conflict, fragility and instability.

UNICEF estimates that nearly 90 million children under the age of 7 have spent their entire lives in conflict zones. Children living in conflict are often exposed to extreme trauma, putting them at risk of living in a state of toxic stress, a condition that inhibits brain cell connections – with significant life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development. In addition to the immediate physical threats that children in crises face, they are also at risk of deep-rooted emotional scars.

Conflict robs children of their safety, family and friends, play and routine. Yet these are all elements of childhood that give children the best possible chance of developing fully and learning effectively, enabling them to contribute to their economies and societies, and building strong and safe communities when they reach adulthood.

As in all humanitarian crises, children continue to bear the brunt of the impact. It is estimated that three out of 10 African children are living in conflict-affected areas.

Children do not start wars…. We know that. –  Yet they are most vulnerable to their deadly effects. Armed conflict kills and maims children, disrupts their education, denies them access to essential health services, increases poverty, malnutrition and disease. Conflict can also separate children from their parents, or force them to flee their homes, witness atrocities or even perpetrate war crimes themselves.

Children are always among the first affected by conflict, whether directly or indirectly. Armed conflict affects their lives in many ways, and even if they are not killed or injured, they can be orphaned, abducted, raped and left with deep emotional scars and trauma from direct exposure to violence or from dislocation, poverty, or the loss of loved ones.

In addition to conflicts, Africa faces a huge burden of natural disasters and disease outbreaks – like Ebola, which have an equally heavy impact on children’s lives. Climate change is increasingly recognised as one of the biggest threats to children globally and in Africa. For example, the El Nino weather phenomenon, felt strongly here in Ethiopia, is exacerbating flooding and droughts, and worsening food crises across the Continent.

Last year, UNICEF responded to 141 humanitarian situations of varying scale in sub-Saharan Africa. We are working with governments, partners and communities to ensure that children’s rights are protected even in the most difficult of situations.

UNICEF is also continuing to invest in disaster-risk reduction, early preparedness and efforts to strengthen the resilience of children and their communities so that the impact of any future crises can be reduced.

But of course, what we ultimately need is greater political will to end conflicts in Africa and to ensure that children’s rights are protected even during times of humanitarian crises.

In preparation for this year’s Day of the African Child, UNICEF used an innovative messaging tool called U-Report to ask children if they think their leaders are doing enough to end conflicts and crises in Africa. The top message was that children don’t think that their leaders were doing enough. We also surveyed the children who participated in the pre-session and They came up with some very smart suggestions on what political leaders – including the Chairperson of the African Union – can do to stop conflict and crises in Africa.

Today’s commemoration of the Day of the African Child is a critical step in galvanising political support for the protection of children’s rights during conflicts and crises, and for holding state and non-state actors accountable when rights are violated.

So we must listen carefully to what the children today tell us. About how conflicts and crises are affecting their lives and what needs to be done to ensure their rights are fully realised. We know they have the answers. It is then our duty to share these messages with the people in power and push for action to be taken.

Day of the African Child is celebrated at Jewi Refugee camp – Gambella, Ethiopia By the African Union, Government of Ethiopia, UN and NGO’s in the presence of refugee children and their families

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s