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Children in conflict

21 February 2018, Impact of Our Work, Emergencies

Children around the world are caught in conflict. Is the world doing enough to stop their suffering?

Abducted and abused. Killed and maimed. Raped and recruited. Denied medical care and aid. Children are no longer just caught in the crossfire – they have become targets in wars raged by adults.

Approximately 350 million children live in areas affected by conflict. In places like Syria and Yemen, fighting has continued for years, and some children don’t know anything else. With the right support, children can recover from their experiences - but more needs to be done to protect them from the horrors of conflict. And it needs to be done now.

From Syria to South Sudan, Yemen to Somalia, children around the world are caught in conflict. Every day, adults are committing shocking abuses against them:

Children are being killed and maimed. In some conflicts, children are the victims of indiscriminate bombing. In others, they’re deliberately targeted. This can be to inflict emotional damage on a community, or wipe out the next generation of a religious or ethnic group. The recent horrors inflicted on Rohingya children in Myanmar should shock us all. There are stories of children killed or hurt by the military, children burned alive in their homes. Almost 400,000 have now fled to Bangladesh - some are with family, some are alone.

Attacks on schools and hospitals are becoming a new normal. Amid the chaos and fear of conflict, education gives hope, and helps children overcome the horrors they’ve seen. Healthcare is vital for treating the injured and malnourished, and keeping disease at bay. But in 2017, there were at least 2,000 attacks on schools in Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. In Syria, there have been 1,004 attacks on health facilities since 2011. In conflicts around the world, schools and hospitals are being hit on an almost daily basis.

Life-saving aid such as food, water and medicine is being blocked. The consequences are devastating when warring parties stop aid reaching people in need. It often leads to more children dying from hunger and disease than from the violence itself. In Yemen, all sides have made it difficult to get life-saving essentials through. Children made up 90% of people affected by a recent diphtheria outbreak, but the vaccines needed to treat them were denied entry to the country. And while 8.4 million people stood on the brink of starvation, food supplies were turned back from ports.

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More than 350 million children are living in areas affected by conflict. That is 1 in every 6 children.

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Between 2005 and 2016, there have been 15,735 attacks on schools and hospitals.

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In 2016, life-saving aid was blocked from getting to those who need it 1,104 times.

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At least 10,068 children were killed or maimed in conflict in 2016 - this number is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

"I was in class when my school was hit ... I later found out that many children had been injured."

In Syria, one in three schools have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war – including eight-year-old Basma's*. She is still full of energy and loves to learn, despite everything she’s been through.

"I am from a town near Damascus city; my home was there and my school too. I really loved my school back home, it was pretty … I had a lot of friends.



"I was in class when my school was hit. We ran out of the school right away … but I later found out that many children had been injured. I have never seen my school or my friends again; I miss them a lot.

"Now I am in this new school [run by Save the Children] and I feel much better. I love the drawings and the colours on the walls. I love the English teacher the most, he is so kind and he teaches us so well."

Schools should be one of the safest places for a child, but they're increasingly becoming a target in wars around the world.

"They set our house on fire with us still in it … we lost two of our children in the chaos."

Hakim's* sons Kabir* and Hadi* are missing, presumed dead, after their village was attacked. Children have faced unimaginable horrors in Myanmar since the escalation of violence against the Rohingya in August 2017.​

"When the military came to our village they told us to go in our house and stay there. If we didn't comply, they said, they would beat us up … then they set our house on fire with us still in it.



"We panicked and tried to get out of our house, but everything happened so quickly … My wife and 12-year-old son also made it out of our house, but we lost two of our children in the chaos … I fear that they didn’t make it out of the house in time and were burned alive.

"It took us 15 days to get to Bangladesh. The whole way my daughter was crying. She needs urgent medical attention."

The number of children killed or maimed in conflict has risen drastically in the last 10 years. And many more deaths and life-long health problems in children are caused by the secondary effects of conflict: disease, malnutrition and psychological stress and trauma.

"We face many challenges in this hospital. We lack medicines and medical supplies."

Years of war have decimated Yemen's water sanitation system and its hospitals, leading to deadly cholera outbreaks – and restrictions on imports and medical supplies mean children are dying from this entirely preventable disease.

"Last week, we received 2-3 suspected [cholera] cases per minute, says Doctor Zaid, as he described the dire needs in his hospital in Sanaa, Yemen." I personally received 180 cases in one day last month. The number of patients in need is shocking. People lay in the corridors, and in some cases, we have had to put six children on one bed as there are not enough to go around.


"We face many challenges in this hospital. We lack medicines and medical supplies. We do not have enough doctors and nurses."

Hassan (left) and his brothers, Ali and Jamal, were brought to hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, suffering from cholera. Children caught in conflict in Yemen are especially susceptible to illness and infection because their bodies are already weak from malnutrition – but food and medicine is deliberately blocked by warring parties.

Listen to real stories: The Anywhere but Home Podcast

Deep in a forest in South Sudan, a sick baby is found under a pile of leaves. With gunmen all around, the race to her to safety and find her family begins. In Nigeria, a teacher risks everything to give the girls in his village a proper education, but pays the ultimate price. His daughter cannot forgive herself – until a boy soldier gives her the courage to go on…

Anywhere but Home is a six-episode audio drama inspired by the incredible journeys made by children fleeing conflict. Listen now.​

You have the power to make a difference

donate now

To end the war on children, and protect them from the horrors of conflict – tell world leaders to act now.

What we’re calling for:

  • Stop putting children at risk by investing in peacekeeping, conflict-prevention and training for military forces on how to keep children safe in conflict.
  • Get all states and actors to uphold their commitments to international law and avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas.
  • Introduce stronger monitoring and reporting systems to track child casualties and hold perpetrators to account.
  • Make sure funding is available to rebuild children’s lives when they’ve been wrecked by conflict – including mental health support.
  • Read the War on Children report.

There Are Some Things You Can't Forget.

Rasha* fled Syria when she was 8 years old, after her school was hit by a rocket.


Sajida’s Village Was Burnt Down

Sajida* was only 12 when she was forced to flee her burning village. She eventually found a safe space where she could make friends and play games again.


I Wish That We Could Stop The War

Noran's* life was changed when an airstrike hit the factory next to her home in Yemen, injuring her spine. Despite this she still dreams of becoming a doctor.


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