THE HAGUE – One-fifth of the world’s children, roughly 420 million, live in areas of conflict, a number that has almost doubled since the end of the Cold War as young people increasingly find themselves the target of war, a damning new report from Save the Children revealed Thursday.
Of those 420 million, around 142 million are living in areas of intense combat, which the international charity qualified as a battle zone where over 1,000 people are killed every year. The report, entitled “Stop the War on Children,” said the number of grave violations against children had doubled since 2010.
“The protection of children in conflict – and with the realization of the promises made in the declarations, conventions and statures of the 20th century – is one of the defining challenges of the 21 century,” the report said.
The organization highlighted Afghanistan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen as the 10 worst countries to be a child.
At least 7,364 children were killed in the most intense warzones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen in 2017 alone.
With the in-depth report, Save the Children is calling for the international community to set up a plan of action to protect children living in conflict zones and declare them off-limits in war with a ten-point charter.
“For the children living in the world’s conflict zones, action cannot come soon enough,” it said.
Evolutions in modern conflicts, such as protracted wars, increased targeting of civilians and urban conflict put children at peril.
“The world is witnessing deliberate campaigns of violence against civilians, including the targeting of schools, the abduction and enslavement of girls and deliberate starvation,” Save the Children said.
Marking the 100th anniversary of its creation, the organization also released detailed reports of the devastating effects of explosive weaponry on children as well as a first-of-its-kind medical field guide on how to treat injuries suffered from explosions.
“I hear an explosion and I felt something go into my eye. I touched it and it began to run. I felt blood pouring out,” Mahmoud, a 12-year-old from Gaza, who gave his own testimony to the report, said.
“They took me to the hospital and they treated me. I woke up at the hospital, I have surgery. When I woke up from the anesthetic, they told me that I had lost my eye,” the young boy, who survived the blast in 2014, added.
Four children were among six killed in an airstrike carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen on Thursday, local officials said.
Saudi Arabia acknowledged the strike but have no mention of victims.
Around 72 percent of child causalities of war are a result of explosive weaponry, whether that be shelling, suicide bombs, car bombs or airstrikes, Keyan Salarkia, of Save the Children, said.
Of the aforementioned 7,364 child fatalities in theaters of war, 5,331 were linked to blasts, Save the Children said.
“Children’s bones bend more than those of adults, meaning a higher chance of long-term deformities as a result of blast injury. A child’s skull is also not as thick as that of an adult, meaning their risk of brain injury is higher,” Save the Children added in a press release.
But the damage from explosions is not limited to physical deformity, the report also found that 84 percent of adults and children reporting psychological stress in situations of daily shelling.
“International law makes clear that everyone has a responsibility to make sure children are protected in war,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save the Children International’s CEO.
“Yet explosive weapons continue to kill, maim and terrorize thousands of children every year. Every warring party – from armed groups to governments – must do more to protect children and abide by this important moral principle to protect children,” the former Danish prime minister added.
The organization also took aim at international indifference and even complicity in violations against children.
Save the Children’s medical guide for treating injuries from explosions, which was also released Thursday, looks to patch up shortcomings in treatments where resources and hospitals are battered and left under-equipped for dealing with the traumas of war.
The 176-page document details procedures ranging from basic first-aid for bystanders who find casualties of explosive attacks to surgery, post-operative care, recovery, psychological support and even provides medical charts to be downloaded and filled in by doctors.
“The sad reality is most medics just haven’t been trained to treat children injured by blasts. Nearly all the textbooks and procedures we have are based on research on injured soldiers, who are usually fit adults,” Major General (Ret) Michael von Bertele, a former British soldier and member of the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership, said.
The Save the Children report concluded with words from its founder, Eglantyne Jebb, who said: “The only international language in the world is a child’s cry. We have heard that cry and will not go unanswered.”