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415 million kids grow up in war zones

February 13, 2020

Children face a greater risk than ever before of growing up surrounded by war, sexual abuse and recruitment into armed groups, a study by the charity Save the Children reported. Children in Africa are the most affected.

Syrien | Kind mit Kanister im kurdischen  al-Hol camp
Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Souleiman

Nearly one in six children around the world — 415 million children in all — were living in a conflict zone in 2018, more than double the figure recorded in 1995, according to a report released Thursday by Save the Children.

"It's staggering that the world stands by while children are targeted with impunity," the charity's chief executive Inger Ashing said in a statement. "Since 2005, at least 95,000 children were recorded to have been killed or maimed, tens of thousands of children abducted, and millions of children denied access to education or health services after their hospitals were attacked."

Incidents of "grave violations" against children have risen by 170% since 2010, according to the study, titled "Stop the War on Children." Since 2010, there has been a 34% increase in the number of children living in conflict zones.

Ashing added that "the destruction of children's lives" will continue if governments around the world fail to take measures to protect them, and if those responsible for crimes are not held to account.

Two kids in front of a wall damaged by shelling
More children are threatened by conflict than ever before, Save the Children reportedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Bildfunk/A. Alkharboutli

African kids affected most

Children in Africa were the worst affected, with 170 million living in war zones, the study found. In the Middle East nearly one in three children was surrounded by conflict.

The report also found record numbers of children being subjected to grave human rights violations, such as killing and maiming, recruitment by armed forces, abduction, attacks on schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access, and rape or other forms of sexual violence.

Infographic showing increase in the number of children living in conflict zones

Read more: 2019 ends 'deadly decade' for children in conflict zones

Out of individual countries, the highest number of children living in high-intensity conflict zones was found in Nigeria, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Afghanistan.

The study pointed out that 2019 represented the 18th year of conflict in Afghanistan and that no child there was born into peace.

Similar circumstances faced successive generations of children in the DRC, Somalia and South Sudan.

"On my way to school, I fear suicide attacks, kidnapping and [I'm afraid] that someone might kill me," Hemat, a 10-year-old Afghan boy told Save the Children. "People are killing children. We are not protected. And we don't have proper schools. Lots of people got killed and there is no safe place for people."

Read more:  7,500 kids 'killed or maimed' in Yemen since 2013, UN says

Gender differences

Boys and girls faced different types of threats, the study found.

"Girls are at far higher risk of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage," the study said. "Boys are much more likely to be exposed to killing and maiming, abductions and recruitment."

Boots of a former child soldier in South Sudan next to a pile of automatic weapons
Boys are more likely to be forced to become child soldiers while girls face higher rates of sexual abuseImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Glinski

Children recount horrifying pasts

The report included statements from children who recounted their experiences.

Samira, a 15-year-old Yazidi girl from Iraq, and mother to a 2-year-old child, told Save the Children she was kidnapped with her mother and sisters, kept in captivity and sold at least three times to people who beat and sexually assaulted her before she was forced to marry an "Islamic State" fighter in Syria.

A boy called Peter recounted how he was recruited by an armed group in South Sudan before escaping to Uganda.

"They gave us weapons for shooting," he said. "They trained you how to load a gun, how to put in the bullet and release the trigger for the gun to shoot."

"My heart was happy when I arrived in Uganda," he added. "I saw schools and hospitals. I was excited and said, 'This is the place where you can at least study and get medication whenever you are sick.'"

sms/wmr (AFP, dpa)

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