At least 100,000 infants die every year in ten conflict-zones, says report

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Every year in just ten conflict-affected countries at least 100,000 infants die who in the absence of conflict would survive, says a new report British charity Save the Children.

The study applied the findings in The Lancet’s study to the ten worst conflict-affected countries, which estimates that in the last five years alone more than 550,000 infants have died due to the reverberating impact of conflict. The total for children under five is 870,000.

The Save the Children study says these estimates by The Lancet are imperfect; but these are indicative and may be highly conservative. However, the estimates suggest that every year in just ten conflict-affected countries at least 100,000 infants die who in the absence of conflict would survive.

The new report said: 420 million children are living in conflict zones.

A “conflict zones” or “conflict-affected areas”, according to the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), is within 50km of where one or more conflict events took place in a given year, within the borders of a country. The Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP), the world’s foremost provider of metrics on organized violence, defines armed conflict as a situation when armed force is used by an organized actor against another organized actor, or against civilians, resulting in at least 25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year.

The report – Stop the War on Children, Protecting children in 21st century conflict – estimated the number of children (420 million) living in conflict zones – nearly one in five of the global population – is a rise of nearly 30 million children from 2016.

The report written by George Graham, Mariam Kirollos, Gunvor Knag Fylkesnes, Keyan Salarkia and Nikki Wong from Save the Children was assisted by the research team from the PRIO.

The research found the number of children living in conflict zones is now double the number at the end of the Cold War.

10 hardest-hit countries

The ten countries hit the hardest are Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Syria, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia. These countries have been identified on the basis of nine indicators that include:

  • The prevalence of reports of each of the six grave violations.
  • Conflict intensity (measured by the number of recorded casualties).
  • Total child population living in conflict-affected areas.
  • The proportion of children living in conflict zones relative to the population of the country as a whole.

The study found children are increasingly directly targeted in some areas to become child soldiers or suicide bombers.

In other cases, children die due to the indirect consequences of war such as starvation, lack of sanitation and lack of access to safe shelter.

Children may also be caught in the crossfire of battles, which are increasingly being fought in urban areas, or they become the victim of landmines and bombings.

Key findings of the report include:

  • 420 million children – nearly one-fifth of children worldwide – are living in a conflict zone; a rise of nearly 30 million children from 2016.
  • The number of children living in conflict zones has doubled since the end of the cold war.
  • 142 million children are living in high-intensity conflict-zones; that is, in conflict zones with more than 1,000 battle-related deaths in a year.
  • New analysis from Save the Children shows that the numbers of ‘grave violations’ of children’s rights in conflict reported and verified by the UN have almost tripled since 2010.
  • Hundreds of thousands of children are dying every year as a result of indirect effects of conflict – including malnutrition, disease and the breakdown of healthcare, water and sanitation.

The report said:

“The nature of conflict – and its impact on children – is evolving. Intra-state conflict is increasing, as are the numbers of armed actors involved. The world is witnessing deliberate campaigns of violence against civilians, including the targeting of schools, the abduction and enslavement of girls, and deliberate starvation.”


Conflicts are long, in terms of time, in the present day-world. The reports said:

“Armed conflicts are more protracted; for instance, the most prominent conflict in recent times – the war in Syria – has lasted longer than the Second World War. The longer a conflict lasts the greater the indirect harm caused as essential services cease to function. And in many protracted situations the lines between ‘conflict’ and ‘peace’ have become blurred.”

The study found increase in new type of conflict zone – urban areas. The study said:

“Conflict is also increasingly urban; in Mosul and Mogadishu, for example, children, their homes and their schools are on the front line, vulnerable to indiscriminate attack. In today’s armed conflicts, there is often no longer a clearly demarcated battlefield: children’s homes and schools are the battlefield.”

The Save the Children report bared a few hard facts:

“Increasingly, the brunt of armed violence and warfare is being borne by children. Children suffer in conflict in different ways to adults, partly because they are physically weaker and also because they have so much at stake – their physical, mental and psychosocial development are heavily dependent on the conditions they experience as children.

“Conflict affects children differently depending on a number of personal characteristics – significantly gender and age, but also disability status, ethnicity, religion and whether they live in rural or urban locations. The harm that is done to children in armed conflict is not only often more severe than that done to adults, it has longer lasting implications – for children themselves and for their societies. Children suffer in conflict in three broad ways:

Children may be deliberately targeted.

The commission of atrocities against children is an exceptionally powerful way of terrorizing a population – and, hence, a preferred military tactic for armed forces and groups in many of today’s conflicts. Children are also often targeted because they may be easily manipulated and exploited, for instance, as soldiers or suicide bombers. Schools become targets for tactical reasons – for example, as a recruiting ground or because they are being used for military purposes.

Children suffer due to indiscriminate or disproportionate military action.

For example, they may be killed or injured by landmines or the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas.

Children suffer on a huge scale from the indirect consequences of conflict.

These include displacement; the breakdown of markets and essential public services, such as healthcare, water and sanitation; and pervasive insecurity. While indirect effects and direct violations are both part of the same continuum of harm inflicted on children by modern conflict, these indirect consequences of conflict affect and kill many more children. More still miss out on school and the chance of a better future.

Key dimension of the crisis

The report identified three key dimensions of the crisis facing children in conflict today:

“• States and armed non-state actors are failing to uphold standards in their own conduct or to insist on this from their allies and from others over whom they have influence.

“• Governments are taking too little action to hold perpetrators of violations to account for their crimes.

“• Not enough is being invested in practical action on the ground to protect children in conflict and to support their recovery.”

This report argues, “children suffering in conflict today are not primarily suffering from a deficit of identified rights. Rather, they are suffering from a crisis of compliance with those rights. Armed actors, often including government forces, are committing violations against children. And they are often being met by, at best, international indifference and, at worst, complicity.”

The study used data collated by the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP), the world’s foremost provider of metrics on organized violence. This dataset provides the geographical location, timing and intensity of recorded conflict events globally, covering the years 1990–2017.

It should be mentioned that the UN Security Council has identified six grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict:

  • killing and maiming of children
  • recruitment and use of children as soldiers
  • sexual violence against children
  • abduction of children
  • attacks on schools and hospitals
  • denial of humanitarian access.

Schools and hospitals

The report said:

“There were 1,432 verified attacks on schools in 2017, making it one of the worst years in recorded history for attacks on education. Much of Syria and Yemen’s education infrastructure has been reduced to rubble by missiles and bombs. According to UNICEF, one third of Syria’s schools have been destroyed or damaged or are occupied.40 One in ten schools in Yemen have been destroyed or damaged. As a result, an estimated 2 million children in Yemen and 2 million children in Syria are out of school. In Ukraine, at least 750 education facilities have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the conflict. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed an estimated 2,295 teachers and UNICEF estimates that more than 1,400 schools have been destroyed, damaged or looted, primarily in the North East zone, and more than 600,000 children have lost access to education.

“The military use of schools continues in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, the Philippines and Afghanistan. In some contexts, schoolgirls have been specifically targeted for sexual violence and by armed groups who oppose female education. For instance, in the DRC, militiamen abducted 17 girls from primary schools in 2017 and raped them over the course of several months. In Balochistan Province, Pakistan, a girls’ school was specifically targeted using improvised explosive devices.

“Hospitals, clinics and other health facilities are also a frequent target for military use and/or attacks, and medical personnel are also targeted. To take just two examples: in Syria the UN verified 108 attacks on hospitals and medical personnel in 2017, resulting in the killing of six and injury to at least 29; in South Sudan, at least 20% of the country’s 1,900 medical facilities had closed as of December 2017 due to the conflict, with 50% functioning at extremely limited capacity. Violence disrupts healthcare systems precisely when children need them more than ever.”


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