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

African youth to African leaders: “You must do more to end conflicts in Africa”

Nyabon Guin (female) 3 years, Bilikum Kebele, Lare Woreda Gambella
Nyabon Guin, 3 is happy that she is back and reunified with her family in Gambella, Ethiopia after being abducted by armed men from the neighbouring South Sudan © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia/ DAKAR, Senegal/NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 June 2016 – African leaders are not doing enough to stop conflicts in Africa, said two-thirds of the nearly 86,000 youth surveyed in a recent mobile-based poll conducted in nine African countries.

Using a messaging tool called U-Report, the short survey was sent to 1.4 million mobile users in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Senegal, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Guinea, from 18 May to 1 June 2016.

The U-Report users surveyed, who are typically between 15 and 30 years of age, were asked to provide their opinion on conflicts and crises in Africa through short multiple choice questions on their mobile phones.

The findings of the survey will be shared with African leaders on the Day of the African Child, which is marked every year on 16 June by the African Union.

“It is so crucial, and even urgent for the leaders to heed the voices of the youth, if we must silence the guns by 2020, as set in our Agenda 2063. This is flagship project to which the youth must also recognize their role and take their responsibility,” said the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Key findings:

  • Asked whether African leaders are doing enough to stop conflicts and crises in Africa, two out of three respondents (70 per cent) believe that African leaders are not doing enough.
  • When asked why Africa is more prone to conflict than other regions, 56 per cent of respondents believe that ‘politicians fighting for power’ is the main reason while 19 per cent said ‘inequality’, 17 per cent said ‘poverty’ and 4 per cent said ‘access to food and water’.
  • What can leaders do to stop conflicts? Nearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said a ‘strong economy’ while 20 per cent believe African countries needs to be more independent in their ‘foreign policy’, 19 per cent said investing in ‘good education’, 14 per cent said ‘talk to each other’, 10 per cent said ‘talk to other country’ and 9 per cent said ‘security’.

Humanitarian crises in Africa continue to spill over borders in recent years, with children and families increasingly on the move. More than 1.2 million people face insecurity in the Central African Republic due to a complex humanitarian and protection crisis that has spread to neighbouring countries.

Nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced by violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency across Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria.

Two years into the conflict in South Sudan, nearly 2.4 million people have fled their homes, including 721,000 living as refugees. Burundi is facing a protection crisis that has driven some 265,000 people to flee across borders.

“The lives of millions of children and their families are disrupted, upended or destroyed by conflict every year in Africa,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This survey speaks to every child’s right to be heard and gives African youth an opportunity to express their hopes for the future of their continent.”

U-Report is a social messaging tool available in 23 countries, including 15 African countries, allowing users to respond to polls, report issues and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their country. Once someone has joined U-Report, polls and alerts are sent via Direct Message and real-time responses are collected and mapped on a website, where results and ideas are shared back with the community.

For more information on U-Report: https://ureport.in/