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Source: Save The Children

A 19-months old child sleeps in a tent in an informal camp in Rafah. [Sacha Myers/ Save the Children]

GAZA, 04 June 2024 – At least 20,0001 children are estimated to be missing in the chaos of the war in Gaza, many trapped beneath rubble, detained, buried in unmarked graves, or lost from their families, said Save the Children. The agency’s child protection teams are reporting that the latest displacements caused by the offensive in Rafah have separated more children and further increased the strain on families and communities caring for them. 

It is nearly impossible to collect and verify information under the current conditions in Gaza, but at least 17,000 children are believed to be unaccompanied and separated and approximately 4,000 children are likely missing under the rubble, with an unknown number also in mass graves. Others have been forcibly disappeared, including an unknown number detained and forcibly transferred out of Gaza, their whereabouts unknown to their families amidst reports of ill-treatment and torture. 

Meanwhile, the aid agency’s child protection teams warn of the urgent action needed to protect separated and unaccompanied children – action that is severely undermined by the deteriorating security situation. 

A Save the Children Child Protection Specialist in Gaza said:  

“Every day we find more unaccompanied children and every day it is harder to support them. We work through partners to identify separated and unaccompanied children and trace their families, but there are no safe facilities for them – there is no safe place in Gaza. Besides, reuniting them with family members is difficult when ongoing hostilities restrict our access to communities, and constantly force families to move.  

“Neighbours and extended family members who have taken in lone children are struggling to meet their basic needs, such as shelter, food, and water. Many are with strangers – or completely alone – increasing the risk of violence, abuse exploitation and neglect.”

Mass casualties were reported following the latest attacks by Israeli forces in Rafah. After one attack, UN experts said that reports emerged of ‘people trapped inside burning plastic tents’ and ‘burnt alive’, and the Gaza Ministry of Health reported ‘bodies burned beyond recognition’. Save the Children warned that confirming identification of a body by the next of kin is almost impossible when whole families have been wiped out and entry restrictions mean the equipment and experts needed cannot get in. 

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, more than 14,000 children have been killed since 7 October, roughly half of whom have not yet been fully identified, partially due to their bodies being harmed beyond recognition2. Children are also among those recently found in mass graves, according to UN experts, with many showing signs of torture and summary executions, as well as potential instances of people buried alive3

At least 33 Israeli children have been killed since October, while it is unclear if any children are among those still being held hostage in Gaza. As of 14 May, around 250 Palestinian children from the West Bank are missing in the Israeli military detention system, their families unable to physically confirm their whereabouts and wellbeing due to additional restrictions on visits introduced since October. 

The UN has received numerous reports of mass detentions, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of possibly thousands of people, including children4

Save the Children’s Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory, Xavier Joubert, said:   

“Families are tortured by the uncertainty of the whereabouts of their loved ones. No parent should have to dig through rubble or mass graves to try and find their child’s body. No child should be alone, unprotected in a war zone. No child should be detained or held hostage.

Children who are missing but living are vulnerable, face grave protection risks and must be found. They must be protected and reunited with their families. For the children who have been killed, their deaths must be formally marked, their families informed, burial rites respected, and accountability sought. As many have pointed out, Gaza has become a graveyard for children, with thousands of others missing, their fates unknown. There must be an independent investigation and those responsible must be held accountable. We desperately need a ceasefire to find and support the missing children who have survived, and to prevent more families from being destroyed.” 

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children since 1953. Save the Children teams in Gaza work with local partners to identify and support unaccompanied children. This includes providing individual child protection case management, cash for caregivers looking after separated children, psychosocial support, and community monitoring and engagement. Save the Children also provides access to services such as child friendly spaces and nutrition and health support.  


[1] On average, children are reported to constitute 43% of total casualties in the war. 10,000 people are reported missing under the rubble, so 40% of them are likely children. This would amount to approximately 4,000 children estimated buried under the rubble, which added to 17,000 unaccompanied and separated children equals 21,000 children missing.

[2] The Ministry of Health documents the full identification details of casualties and has recently published the breakdown of 24,790 out of 36,100 fatalities for whom full details have been collected by MoH as of 20 May 2024; according to MoH, these reportedly include 7,823 children, 4,980 women, 1,926 elderly. The Ministry categorizes an individual as dead only when their details are documented and verified by a next of kin and says that the documentation process is ongoing.  

The process for identifying bodies and finding those missing, much like death toll counting, is severely hampered by ongoing hostilities, Israeli restrictions on the entry of essential equipment, fuel scarcity, communications blackouts, and the decimation of the health system. 




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