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Source: Save The Children

1.   Introduction

The protection of children in conflict – and with it the realisation of the promises made in the declarations, conventions and statutes of the 20th century – is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. Despite the advancement of international and regional legal and policy frameworks, the plights of children in the situation of armed conflicts remains grave and completely unacceptable. Often their rights are violated with total impunity. New evidence presented by SC is damning[1]:

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 SC shows that the numbers of ‘grave violations’ of children’s rights in conflict reported and verified by the United Nations 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 services.

The nature of conflict has changed, putting children in the frontline in new and terrible ways. They are more likely to be fought in urban areas amongst civilian populations leading to deaths and life-changing injuries, and laying waste to the infrastructure needed to guarantee access to food and water. 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 and health facilities, the abduction and enslavement of girls, and deliberate starvation. The denial of humanitarian aid is used as yet another weapon of war. The international rules and basic standards of conduct that exist to protect civilians in conflict are being flouted with impunity. Children are disproportionately suffering the consequences of these brutal trends; almost one fifth of children worldwide are now living in areas affected by armed conflict.[2] We see more children facing unimaginable mental and physical trauma and toxic stress; more children going hungry; more children falling victim to preventable diseases; more children out of school; more children at risk of sexual violence and recruitment by armed groups; and more children trapped on the frontline without access to humanitarian aid.

Across Africa, 152 million children – one in four – are living in conflict-affected areas. This is an increase from 2016, when it was one in five children. According to SC’s analysis, six out of the ten worst countries for children in conflict are in Africa.[3] Unfortunately, in most cases, the harm children experience in war, pervasive as they are; the opportunity for redress, to receive the necessary assistance and support, for reparation and justice remain slim or more often than not, almost non-existent.

The shrinking of humanitarian space disproportionally affects children worldwide, and this is equally true in West Africa: in this region, a significant proportion of those displaced by conflict and violence are children. Three areas currently concentrate the bulk of conflict-related child displacement in West Africa, namely Eastern DRC, Lake Chad Basin and Sahel region – more precisely in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger cross-border crisis in the Liptako-Gourma area. In recent years, the focus on security and development has led to the development of new strategies for the Sahel: the double and triple nexus (AGIR, G5 Sahel, Sahel Alliance, UN Support Plan for Sahel). However, it is clear that the strengthening of civil-military coordination stems more from the priority given to the security program rather than from the need to reinforce the prioritization of humanitarian needs. Moreover, this approach jeopardizes the respect of the humanitarian principles because of the conflicting agendas between different mandated organizations operating in the same arena. It is therefore important for the humanitarian community to strengthen the coordination and convergence with development actors to bridge the humanitarian-development gap in order to reduce the structural vulnerabilities as part for the nexus and “New Ways of Working” agenda.

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