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End of childhood

22 February 2018, Research and Reports

Childhood ends far too early for millions of children around the world, and the impact is often felt for the rest of their lives. Our new report, Stolen Childhoods, looks at eight defining life events that signal the end of childhood.

In many parts of the world, children can hardly expect any childhood at all. The Stolen Childhoods: End of Childhood Report looks at where childhood is most threatened – and the eight reasons why:

1. Marriage

Every 7 seconds, a girl under 15 gets married.

Poverty often drives families to marry off their girls at a young age but once married, girls can be deprived of their rights to freedom, education and a childhood.

8 causes of a stolen childhood
Image: Save the Children

Majerah, from Afghanistan, wanted to be a doctor but she was forced to leave school at 14 and get married. Her in-laws treat her like a slave, making her do all the housework. The family disrespects her because she has not been able to have a child, and she has been hit by her husband several times.

“I was forced into adult life way too early,” Majerah says, “all my dreams have been shattered forever. I feel I am not alive anymore. One cannot live without hopes and dreams.”

2. Pregnancy

Every two seconds, a girl gives birth.

A girl’s childhood ends abruptly when her health and wellbeing are put at risk by pregnancy, and she becomes responsible for raising a child when she is still a child herself. Globally, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

3. Work

168 million children worldwide are involved in child labour.

When families need the income, children often have no choice but to work, which means they miss out on play, education, rest and, in effect, childhood.

Today, 168 million children are trapped in child labour and half of them are involved in hazardous forms of work such as cotton picking, military service, construction, mining, waste site scavenging and brick making.

4. Malnutrition

A quarter of all children under five are stunted due to malnutrition.

Stunting, a condition caused by chronic malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, affects 156 million children under five. It limits the physical development that should occur during childhood, as well as a child’s ability to play and interact, and perform well in school.

This can have a devastating impact on childhood, as well as future education and work life, keeping children bound by the chain of poverty.

5. Lack of education

More than 1 in 6 children are out of school worldwide.

Education is a core part of childhood. School is where children learn, make friends and build a foundation for a good life. But approximately 263 million children are not in school; more than the total number of children living in developed countries.

Many of these children are excluded from learning due to ethnicity and gender, or because they have a disability. For example, about 15 million girls of primary school age will never have the opportunity to learn, compared to approximately 10 million boys. And refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children.

6. Violence

Every day, more than 200 boys and girls are murdered.

Violence ends hundreds of children’s lives every day. And for those who survive, seeing or experiencing violence can have a devastating impact. Depression, anxiety and other emotional repercussions take a devastating toll on childhood.

Fear of violence can have a knock-on impact too. For example, in El Salvador, nearly 40,000 children dropped out of school in 2015 because of concerns about gang violence.

7. Conflict

Conflict has forced nearly 28 million children to flee their homes.

When war, violence and persecution force a child to flee their home, it often means they enter a world where they’re denied their right to education, healthcare and safety. Without these basic elements of childhood, a child’s entire future is threatened.

8 causes of a stolen childhood
Image: Gabriele Casini / Save the Children

Ahlam* and her family endured months of airstrikes and hunger before they fled their home in northern Iraq. She was out of school for two years. “I left behind my toys ... my school ... I had everything. Here I don’t have toys. I prefer to go back home. It has been a long time since we saw our home.”

To recover and contribute positively to their new communities, children like Ahlam must be given opportunities for education and help to overcome traumatic experiences.

8. Death

Every day, more than 16,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday.

When children die before their fifth birthday, it’s often from preventable or treatable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and complications during birth. The world’s most disadvantaged children are at the greatest risk because they often don’t have access to healthcare, clean water and healthy food.

In Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia, 10% of children do not live to see their fifth birthday.

You can make a difference. Our programs are designed to tackle the issues that limit childhood. By supporting Save the Children, you can help children have a healthy start in life, an education, protection from harm and a better chance of a bright future.

But we need world leaders to do more, too. We’re calling on world leaders to value every child’s right to survive, thrive and be protected. We're asking them to follow through on the commitments they made under the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Banner image: Image: CJ Clarke / Save the Children

*Names changed to protect identities