Children in war

The establishment of the United Nations after World War II raised hopes of a new era of peace. This was over-optimistic. Between 1945 and 1992, there were 149 major wars, killing more than 23 million people. On an average yearly basis, the number of war deaths in this period was more than double the deaths in the 19th century, and seven times greater than in the 18th century. War and political upheaval have been tearing whole countries apart²from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Cambodia to Rwanda. And this vortex of violence is sucking in ever-larger numbers of children. Entire generations have grown up in the midst of brutal armed conflicts. At the end of 1995, conflicts have been running in Angola for over 30 years, in Afghanistan for 17 years, in Sri Lanka for 11 years and in Somalia for 7 years.

Photo: One of the rights of children is to be protected from military conscription, but children have participated in a number of recent conflicts. Young soldiers from Myanmar drill. Children have, of course, always been caught up in warfare. They usually have little choice but to experience, at minimum, the same horrors as their parents²as casualties or even combatants. And children have always been particularly exposed. When food supplies have run short, it is children who have been hardest hit, since their growing bodies need steady supplies of essential nutrients. When water supplies have been contaminated, it is children who have had the least resistance to the dangers of disease. And the trauma of exposure to violence and brutal death has emotionally affected generations of young people for the rest of their lives. Recent developments in warfare have significantly heightened the dangers for children. During the last decade, it is estimated (and these figures, while specific, are necessarily orders of magnitude) that child victims have included:
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2 million killed; 4-5 million disabled; 12 million left homeless; more than 1 million orphaned or separated from their parents; some 10 million psychologically traumatized.4

can become an irresistible process. they are also likely to be specific targets.The increasing number of child victims is primarily explained by the higher proportion of civilian deaths in recent conflicts.5 million lives. To say they are complex is true enough. It also obscures the fact that these are fundamentally political disputes. This is because many contemporary struggles are between different ethnic groups in the same country or in former States.5 This is partly a function of technology. with the bombings of Coventry and Dresden. for example. The escalation from ethnic superiority to ethnic cleansing to genocide. Rather than being set-piece battles between contending armies. the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 13 countries had ongoing "complex emergencies" of this type. future generations of the enemy²their children²must also be eliminated. you have to kill the little rats. but this would cover most forms of human activity. which is estimated to have cost 2. In the wars of the 18th. "To kill the big rats. Even to say that they are 'emergencies' is optimistic. As one political commentator ex-pressed it in a 1994 radio broadcast before violence erupted in Rwanda. and the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. the enemy camp is all around. as we have seen. it also listed 16 other countries with potential emergencies. and distinctions between combatant and non-combatant melt away in the suspicions and confusions of daily strife. . When ethnic loyalties prevail. only about half the victims were civilians. these are chronic forms of social conflict whose violent repercussions in the form of 'total war' could be felt for years or decades ahead. And this pattern was repeated in the Viet Nam war. classifying such processes as 'complex emergencies' is incomplete. 19th and early 20th centuries. Families and children are not just getting caught in the crossfire. or between contending groups of armed civilians. a perilous logic clicks in. Killing adults is then not enough. Rather." In these circumstances. and by the end of the 1980s it was almost 90 per cent. these are much more complex affairs²struggles between the military and civilians. In this case. but within them. Aerial bombardment has extended the potential battle zone to entire national territories. In the later decades of this century the proportion of civilian victims has been rising steadily: in World War II it was two thirds. and it classified over 20 million people as "vulnerable". World War II saw a massive increase in indiscriminate killings. They are as likely to be fought in villages and suburban streets as anywhere else. suggesting that they will soon be over. A further cause of the rising death toll for civilians is that most contemporary conflicts are not between States. In 1994.

children were not particularly effective as front-line fighters since most of the lethal hardware was too heavy and cumbersome for them to manipulate. children as young as seven were seen in combat because. they cost no more than US$6 each. a military unit can be something of a refuge²serving as a kind of surrogate family. a child with an assault rifle. In one sense.000 children. For centuries children have been involved in military campaigns²as child ratings on warships. At a more basic level.Children as soldiers Most child casualties are civilians. is a fearsome match for anyone. Since their introduction in 1947. in these circumstances. What is frightening nowadays is the escalation in the use of children as fighters. Similarly.000. frightened. a Soviet-made AK-47 or an American M-16. These weapons are very simple to use. Many current disputes have lasted a generation or more²half of those under way in 1993 had been going on for more than a decade. in one African country. The rifles have also become much cheaper and more widely available²having few moving parts they are extremely durable and have steadily accumulated in war zones. the National Resistance Army had an estimated 3. thousands of children under the age of 16 have fought in wars. In the past. Recently. can also mean a group of young people. They are easier to intimidate and they do as they are told. Alone. children have other advantages as soldiers. Many children joined armed groups in Cambodia in the 1980s as the best way to secure food and protection. In long-drawn-out conflicts children also become a valued resource. In the Philippines. A child might have been able to wield a sword or a machete but was no match for a similarly armed adult. around 55 million AK-47s have been sold. But one of the most deplorable developments in recent years has been the increasing use of young children as soldiers. The M-16 is just as ubiquitous. most of whom had been orphaned and who looked on the Army as a replacement for their parents. which has suffered for decades from a war of insurgency. In 1988 alone. orphaned. bored and frustrated. One reason for this is the proliferation of light weapons. However. this is not really new. for foot-soldiers. many children have become soldiers as soon as they enter their teens. joining an army may also be the only way to survive. They are also less likely than adults to run away and they do not demand salaries. or as drummer boys on the battlefields of Europe. and has been described by one military historian as the "transistor radio of modern warfare. When schools are closed and families fragmented. they will often finally choose to fight. they numbered as many as 200. many under 16. including 500 girls. for example. in Liberia in 1990. The AK-47 can be stripped and reassembled by a child of 10. In Uganda in 1986. according ." Besides being able to use lethal weapons. there are few influences that can compete with a warrior's life. Children who have grown up surrounded by violence see this as a permanent way of life. in 25 countries. Indeed. Indeed the word 'infantry'.

want to become soldiers and offer themselves for service.000-strong Karen Army were under the age of 15. Being small and inconspicuous. they may also be seeking revenge for the deaths of their parents.000 boy soldiers. ranging in age from 6 to 20. Mozambique. the children have been led to neighbouring villages to repeat the exercise. And others have suffered particularly brutal forms of induction. indoctrinating children. the Ethiopian army would kidnap boys of 15 or younger from the villages and the poorest quarters of the cities. in Angola. Indeed. While in the early 1980s rebel groups in El Salvador offered primary school instruction. . as well as from schools." In Myanmar. In these circumstances. the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been particularly active in the school system. children can be expected to join up. Ethiopia. This was true in Liberia. At relatively quiet times in camp this may be little more than cooking or carrying water. often verging on the brutal. Sri Lanka and the Sudan. in 1990. Like adults. where a quarter of the combatants in the various fighting factions were children²some 20. Thus outlawed and brutalized. have all conscripted children. Opposition movements in many countries have also seized children²as in Angola. government forces in El Salvador. Armed groups will often aim their propaganda specifically at young people. usually the training offered is less benevolent. Once recruited. an estimated 900 of the 5. in particular. Guatemala and Myanmar. among others. Many children. children undergo varying degrees of the Director of the Liberian Red Cross. Renamo had at least 10. Indigenous children in Peru. children may also have active reasons to want to fight. have undergone long periods of forced political indoctrination. Similarly. a 1995 survey found that 36 per cent of children had accompanied or supported soldiers. who have been forced to join guerrilla bands. and often fed crack or other drugs. Some rebel groups in Cambodia and Mozambique turned children into fierce warriors by subjecting them to a brief period of terror and physical abuse²'socializing' them into violence. where in 1995 the Revolutionary United Front has been raiding villages to capture children into its ranks and force them to witness or take part in the torture and execution of their own relatives. they too may see themselves fighting for social justice²as was often the case in Central America or South Africa²or they may want to fight for their religious beliefs or cultural identity. Finally. In Uganda in 1986. "those with guns could survive. In Sri Lanka. and 7 per cent of Angolan children had fired at somebody. Others are deliberately recruited. systematically practised forced recruitment.000 in all. brothers or sisters. parents volunteer their children for the rebel Karen army because the guerrillas provide clothes and two square meals a day. Much the same thing has been happening more recently in Sierra Leone. In the 1980s. In more personal terms. therefore. children also have particular value as messengers or as spies. the National Patriotic Front of Liberia had its own 'small boys unit'. some as young as six years old. But even if they do not volunteer they may be recruited forcibly. The Renamo forces in Mozambique. Children's actual duties in warfare cover the whole range of military activities. Over the past decade.

In Sarajevo. women and girls in particular suffer the added trauma of sexual abuse and rape. girls will carry the long-term effects of such abuse into their adult lives. but even those who remain 'civilians' can be subjected to horrific experiences. Without help. children have been imprisoned and are facing trial for genocide. Once immersed in this savage environment. Children have been tortured as part of collective punishments for whole communities. The treatment of child prisoners is a matter of increasing concern²particularly in Rwanda where.000 Muslim women have been raped in Bosnia since fighting broke out in April 1992. child soldiers. can also be visited on children. In fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. They have also been tortured as a way of punishing their parents. the children mingled with the fleeing crowds and threw handgrenades at trucks full of government soldiers. In these violent circumstances. as soldiers they are often considered the most expendable. . almost one child in four has been wounded. it has been deliberate policy to rape teenage girls and force them to bear 'the enemy's' child. were sent out ahead in waves over minefields. A European Community fact-finding team estimated that more than 20. Torture and rape Many children suffer appalling violence as soldiers. And while children might be thought to be the people deserving greatest protection. During the Iran-Iraq war. This also means that children are as likely as adults to be captured and imprisoned. Anything that can be done to adults. or as a means of extracting information about peers or parents. however monstrous. Sexual violence is particularly common in ethnic conflicts. for the first time in history. for example.the National Resistance Army sent children into the capital to spot the government fortifications and when the shelling started. Photo: The fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not spared the children. or in some cases simply for entertainment. differences of age soon seem irrelevant. which psychologists identify as the most intrusive of traumatic events.

Some are classified as 'displaced'. As a result. 'Unaccompanied minors' typically account for up to 5 per cent of a refugee population. this places an enormous strain on countries that already have problems caring for their own populations. . One factor contributing to the high rate of AIDS in Uganda could be that some women had to trade sex for security during the country's civil war. refugee populations in Somalia had mortality rates very much higher than during peace. but some are deliberate. Almost all separations are accidental. and particularly of HIV/ AIDS. The total number of uprooted people is currently around 53 million²one out of every 115 people on earth has been forced into flight. the next generation is at an even greater disadvantage. In the Renamo camps in Mozambique.000 children had been separated from their families. for example.In Rwanda. Haitians and Vietnamese. In Angola. The rise of sexually transmitted diseases. beri-beri and pellagra. who themselves had been traumatized by violence.000 people in just one month. is therefore inevitable. and often more²as children are lost. have sometimes sent children ahead in boats in the hope that the whole family will find it easier to gain asylum. frequently inflicted sexual violence on young girls²threatening to kill or starve them if they resisted. the prevalence of wasting was more than 40 per cent. young boys. others are 'refugees' who have crossed borders into neighbouring countries. shelter or physical protection for themselves or their children. some abandoned their babies. But many lose their parents. In 1992. separated or orphaned in the panic of flight.22 And in Angola. There have been widespread outbreaks of micronutrient diseases such as scurvy. having fled their homes to move elsewhere within their own country. Liberia and the Sudan. as more children are born with AIDS or are orphaned. Even women and girls who are not physically forced to have sex may still be obliged to trade sexual favours for food. a cholera epidemic killed 50. Most refugee and displaced children travel with their families. an estimated 114.21 Since three quarters of refugees have fled from one developing country to another. rape has been systematically used as a weapon of ethnic cleansing to destroy community ties. In the Goma refugee camp in eastern Zaire in 1994. others committed suicide. In some raids. virtually every adolescent girl who survived an attack by the militia was subsequently raped. Uprooted children The waves of violence that have swept across the world in recent years have uprooted enormous numbers of people²at least half of whom are children. In Rwanda at the end of 1994. Many of those who became pregnant were then ostracized by their families and community. One of the most serious problems is malnutrition. When forced into squalor and deprivation²the characteristic conditions of refugee camps² children are at particular risk. a 1995 UNICEF survey found that 20 per cent of children had been separated at some time from their parents and relatives.

or by members of former communities or ethnic groups. most of the children who die in wartime have not been hit by bombs or bullets but have succumbed to starvation or sickness. Others are likely to end up in the cities. frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease. Governments often feed their armies first.000 orphaned and unaccompanied children have been absorbed by extended families. Apart from the main government and opposition groups. Not all lost children will remain on their own for long. In Mozambique.000 Sudanese young people. Famine and disease Whether they are on their own or with their parents. For example. Thousands of girls have also been killed or abducted by the raiders. at least 20. Most such deaths arise from disruption of the normal production and distribution of food.One of the most disturbing cases of lost children has emerged in the civil war in southern Sudan. Many have died on the journey. In African wars. Hungry. In Somalia in the 1980s. a large number of the estimated 200. have killed about 20 times more people than have armaments. And in Angola. And when war is combined with drought. during 1992. they have crossed from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back. In many countries. most survivors are now in camps in the parched north-western plains of Kenya. These 'lost boys' of the Sudan have been trekking enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness. A 1991 study in Liberia found that over 90 per cent of those children surveyed who were living or working on the streets had been there only since the war. Many who have parted from their parents are subsequently taken in by members of their extended family or community. there are also various militias that spread terror by pillaging villages and killing or seizing their inhabitants. one . seeking refuge from the fighting. the Ethiopian Government used scorched-earth tactics to destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of food-producing land in Tigray. lack of food and medical services. in the early 1980s. One 1980 study in a war zone in Uganda attributed only 2 per cent of the deaths to violence²whereas 20 per cent were caused by disease and 78 per cent by hunger. half or more of all the children under five on 1 January were dead by 31 December²and around 90 per cent of these died from the interaction of malnutrition and disease. the death toll can be enormous: in Somalia. the UNITA forces sowed large areas of land with anti-personnel mines to hamper food production in government-controlled areas. The manipulation of food supplies has always been a significant tactic of war but has been used particularly ruthlessly of late. but few have run away from their villages since it is more difficult for girls to envisage life outside their families. distributing to the civilian populations only the food that remains. mostly boys between the ages of 7 and 17. Fearing capture or death. grain stores have also been subject to attack by rebel and government forces. have fled their homes. and over half of them said they were there because they had been separated from their families. combined with the stress of flight. War also hinders the distribution of food relief. while mobilizing and relocating its own supporters to create food production bases.

In Sarajevo. and 20 per cent had terrifying dreams. One 1990 study found that 66 per cent of urban water sources were contaminated and that one third of urban communities were using cesspools for sewage disposal. it is estimated that.505 children in the summer of 1993. 29 per cent felt 'unbearable sorrow'. and 66 per cent had been in a situation where they thought they would die. In Mozambique. The trauma of war Every conflict forces children to live through some terrible experiences. Angola lost 330. beaten or hurt. water systems have deliberately been destroyed to isolate and break down residential neighbourhoods.000 to war-related causes. but it also cuts supplies of water. Water can also be a weapon of war. Indeed. In Sarajevo. For example. with particular risks in cities. . Not only does war interrupt the distribution of food. In Uganda between 1972 and 1985. between 1982 and 1986.000 children and Mozambique 490. The lack of food. It found that 97 per cent of the children had experienced shelling nearby. over 40 per cent of health centres were destroyed.estimate suggested that only 12 per cent of some food aid shipments reached the people for whom they were intended. or may leave the country. where almost one child in four has been wounded in the conflict. 91 per cent had seen dead bodies. and 67 per cent had seen people being tortured. more than two thirds of children had lived through events in which they had defied death. during the course of the war. Another survey in 1995 in Angola found that 66 per cent of children had seen people being murdered. The long and devastating war in Lebanon had a very damaging effect on the quantity and quality of drinking water. Communities at war also inevitably see attacks on their health infrastructure. millions of children have been present at events far beyond the worst nightmares of most adults. in the period of conflict from 1980 to 1988. 30 per cent of the pumping system and 60 per cent of the water mains' piping have been ruined. clean water and adequate health care in war zones exacts a terrible toll on children. half the doctors and 80 per cent of the pharmacists abandoned the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Some 55 per cent had been shot at by snipers. Health personnel are also often scattered. UNICEF conducted a survey of 1. In all.

In all cultures. difficulty in concentrating. they are even more vulnerable than younger children since they recognize better the significance of the events unfolding around them. clinical psychologist at the National Trauma Recovery Centre. They are at a time of life when they are undergoing many physical and emotional changes. so overwhelming.Photo: Children are at particular risk from malnutrition because of war. Dr. A child must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. traumatic events is a way for a child to begin healing and start on the road to recovery. causing extreme nightmares." It is universally true that horrific experiences are so deeply disturbing. The very act of talking or writing about. Albert Nambaje. one of the most significant war traumas of all. with the support and guidance of an empathetic and informed adult. insecurity and bitterness. one of the most important factors is the cohesion of the family and community." The UN Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur on former Yugoslavia similarly reports on interviews with children: "Memories of the event remain with them. fear. A study in a war zone attributed only 2 per cent of deaths to violence. Every culture has its own way of dealing with traumatic experiences. is simply separation from parents²often more distressing than the war activities themselves. who are in a state of depression and who have increased levels of aggression and delinquency. or even acting out. who attempt suicide. reported: "Among the symptoms manifested by children are nightmares. After the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Time does not heal trauma. Aid workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been encountering adolescents who have 'weeping crises'. depression and a sense of hopelessness about the future. that a child will try to suppress bad memories rather than confront them... And much also depends on the family circumstances of the children. But many trauma researchers believe that it is the repression of memories and feelings that is at the heart of trauma suffering in both the short and long term. as well as on their age and the nature of their exposure to traumatic events. and the degree of nurture and support that children receive. daily intrusive flashbacks of the traumatic events. . Lao and Vietnamese people show that each has very different conceptions of psychosocial distress. studies of Cambodian. In some ways. Indeed. This type of experience can produce a range of symptoms. particularly for younger children. In South-East Asia. Adolescents also face particular problems. most are caused by the interaction of malnutrition and infection.

were interviewed about their war experiences in a recent study carried out by the Christian Children's Fund. the 200 interviews report traumatic experiences undoubtedly shared by many other Angolan children. 1995. The legacy of land-mines Of all the weapons that have accumulated over years of war. on the streets and in orphanages. Hundreds of thousands of children. have been killed or maimed by these deadly devices. Since 1975. While the children selected were from a wide range of environments. Source: Study by Christian Children's Fund. few are more persistent and more lethal to children than land-mines . land-mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. at camps for the displaced.Figure 1: Some 200 children 8 to 16 years of age. The interviews took place in schools. Two thirds of the children were natives of Huambo and Bie provinces. there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in . one third of whom were girls. In 64 countries around the world. Nevertheless. There seems little prospect of any end to the carnage. they were not a representative sample. the rest were from eight other provinces. planting crops or just playing. herding animals.

It is clear that many of these have been randomly scattered in inhabited areas precisely to cause civilian casualties and terrorize the population. Shrapnel may also cause blindness and disfigurement. The most dangerous to children are the anti-personnel mines that explode even under the gentle pressure of a child's hand or foot. whose small bodies are particularly vulnerable to the injuries they inflict. One of the most infamous is the 'butterfly' mine. Those who do live will be seriously injured. and the cost to families of caring for injured relatives. But all can seem an interesting discovery for a curious child. . or as property security devices. They remain active for decades. There are basically two types of land-mines: anti-tank and anti-personnel. a land-mine is a perfect soldier: "Ever courageous. never sleeps. others like pineapples. Adults caught in the blast of an anti-personnel mine often survive with treatment. and put huge areas of agricultural land out of production. though they usually lose a limb. All of this happens in countries that have difficulty offering the simplest medicines or pain-killers. One of the mosts heavily mined countries in the world is Afghanistan." Photo: Land-mines are catastrophic for children. The countries most devastated by land-mines are probably Afghanistan. Virtually all combatants use land-mines. Land-mines cause enormous pain and suffering but they also bring lingering economic and social costs. Some of the largest numbers lie in wait in Africa and Asia. designed to float to the ground from helicopters without exploding. or even to settle domestic disputes. During the Persian Gulf war. In addition. In El Salvador. they also hinder the flow of goods and people. Some look like stones. Afghanistan has an estimated 10-15 million mines in place. And some 3 million have been laid in the continuing Balkan war. let alone artificial limbs. Angola and Cambodia. fewer than 20 per cent of child victims receive any kind of remedial therapy. Children are less likely to survive because their bodies are so vulnerable. the US and its allies laid about 1 million mines along the Iraq-Kuwait border and around the Iraqi city of Basra. As one Khmer Rouge general put it. In addition to the expense of medical treatment. the availability of land-mines contributes to the permanent 'militarization' of daily life. A child may lose one or both legs or arms and sustain serious injuries to the genitals and abdomen.the ground²waiting. never misses. the rest have had to fend for themselves as best they can²often begging or stealing to survive. So common are they in Cambodia that they are now used for fishing. but with a shape and colour that also make it a deadly toy. These come in a bewildering array of shapes and colours.

Apart from the demand for mines from combatants. Unfortunately. I see little difference between those who use them and those who produce them. In the same year. and adding some US$1.9 million mines.4 billion to the future cost of clearance. The international community is slowly realizing the implications of a world studded with landmines. Sadako Ogata. are still content to manufacture and sell these destructive devices. it has not been sufficiently shocked to take effective action. Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1993. And in some Latin American countries. Cambodia. Guns and knives and fights are chilling parts of daily life. Trained workers have to crawl their way along. or falling victim to famine or disease in refugee camps. often drug-related. children spend their days begging or cleaning car windows²numbing their pain by inhaling chemical solvents or glue.. fighting on the front lines. Ironically. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. probing the soil ahead. these weapons that can cost less than US$3 each to manufacture can cost up to US$1. is drawing in everyounger children. or professional killers to eliminate street children they consider a nuisance. one of the major problems is that dozens of companies around the world. the toll they take on innocent civilians amounts to a crime against humankind.. businessmen have paid off-duty policemen. In urban areas around the world. Millions of other children struggle to survive in close-to-battlefield conditions on the streets of the world's cities²from Los Angeles to São Paulo to Manila. At the time of the announcement of the boycott. Croatia and Mozambique. many of them household names..000 each to clear. gang violence. An increasing revulsion at this trade is encouraging a number of organizations to refuse to do business with companies involved in the sale or production of such weapons. however. One person can clear only 20 to 50 square metres per day. a further 2 million mines were laid²leaving a 'de-mining deficit' of 1.Land-mines can be cleared²but only laboriously and at enormous expense. In the US. Among United Nations organizations. dealt with land-mines squarely: "For my part. . UNICEF has joined the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in supporting such a boycott." A continuum of violence It is shocking enough that children are blown up by mines. security guards. But open warfare is only part of a much broader picture of violence against children. inch by inch. it allocated only US$70 million for mine clearance in countries such as Afghanistan.Whatever the present legality of manufacturing such weapons.

What it does. Even those disputes that appear most surprising have clear antecedents. The outbreaks of violence in Chiapas in Mexico in 1994 came as less of a surprise to those who lived there and knew of the sharp divide between the indigenous people of Chiapas and the rest of the country. economic and political. Their state provides one fifth of the country's electricity and one third of its coffee. which finds it difficult to attract private funds. And industrialized countries have been increasingly reluctant to meet the financial shortfalls with aid. While there may be longer-term benefits to elements of adjustment. There is also greater economic uncertainty. in the face of deepening economic crises and under pressures of structural adjustment. . Pointing out the chronic nature of many of these crises is not a counsel of despair. but the world is clearly moving into a much more fluid era in which underlying tensions are erupting to the surface. The collapse of communism. yet the Mayan population their lives close to destitution. the end of the cold war and the extension of liberal democracy have all combined to create a much more volatile situation as people regroup in different political formations.Photo: In the destroyed Bosnian city of Mostar. The steady globalization of international finance and trade may be creating wealth for some. the costs to today's families and children have been immense. This is a particularly serious development for Africa. The governments of many developing countries. Millions of other children suffer from the collapse of public services. future generations of children will live in a constant state of war. political and economic crises. in fact. have cut health and education services and reduced food subsidies. but also contains the seeds of future conflict. The response has to take place at many levels simultaneously: legal. riddled with bullet holes. Development assistance actually fell in 1993 for the first time in several years. suggest is that unless these underlying issues are addressed. All of what are now seen as 'complex emergencies' have their roots deep in longrunning social. Such pressures have built up over generations. This violent environment not only adds to human suffering. a street sign alerting motorists to school-children still stands. but for millions of others it is leading to conditions of marginalization and social disintegration.

. have been caused by poison gas used in the Iran-Iraq war." But that's not what another military expert believes. near the kidney. soil." Iraqi doctors report a fourfold increase in birth defects since the end of the Gulf War and a similar rise in childhood cancers. "The allegations that this is from the Gulf War do not seem to be credible. Dr. meaning it is highly effective in slicing through enemy armor. A mustard agent can cause cancers in children born of people exposed. acknowledged that serious medical problems exist among Iraqi children." Eesa said. The US Military View Dr. the United States and Britain fired 320 tons of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition. in fact. Pulverized dust can enter the air. The Pentagon says DU poses no danger to civilians. recently treated an 8 1/2-year-old girl who lives in an area where depleted uranium ammunition was fired during the Gulf War. have discovered similar problems. That would have to be studied to see if it's a cause of some of the illness being seen. Doctors in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia believe DU has had a dramatic impact on children of war in those regions. . It is one of the major factors for development of malignancies. Asad Eesa. "We didn't see it before. radioactive fireball. He said the cancers and birth defects may." Why Depleted Uranium? The United States and Britain use such ammunition because it is denser than lead. it creates a small. "Surely she will die. Critics say an inordinate number of children exposed to DU even years later get cancer." said Eesa.. where the United States also used DU. "She has an abdominal tumor. and many are born with birth defects. But when DU hits a hard target." he said. neural plastoma. as the crying little girl sat on the floor of a hospital corridor with her mother. and water. Doctors in former Yugoslavia. chief resident at the children's and maternity hospital in Basra in southern Iraq. Her prognosis is poor. but says DU doesn't harm civilians because the fine dust doesn't disperse very far. And the United States is using depleted uranium ammunition again in the current war with Iraq. "Some of this population during the Iran-Iraq war was exposed to a mustard agent..America During the Persian Gulf War. And it remains radioactive for billions of years. Michael Kilpatrick. There [have been] no changes in Iraqi conditions except the war. "After the war we immediately saw malignancies and congenital abnormalities. Iraq was bombed by air with weapons containing DU. the deputy director at the Pentagon's Deployment Health Support Directorate. Iraqi doctors blame many childhood cancers and birth defects on the use of depleted uranium.

armed conflict brings about general destitution that leaves many children with no choice but to take to the streets. For example. their young age makes them more vulnerable than adults. the risks differ depending on the age and sex of the child. begging or doing odd jobs ± often very hard and underpaid ± simply to survive. injury. coordinator of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. one expert believes. impact The United Nations has made tremendous progress in raising awareness about issues affecting children of war. A child without adult care is at risk of neglect and all kinds of abuse. "The reality is that when you're talking about international policy. He was breathing in the dust. He said the DU dust got blown far away by the wind and entered the soil and water supply. a network of nongovernmental organizations. but there's a gap between what is written on paper and what happens in the field. the wheels of change are too slow for many of these kids. but often face greater risks of abuse. Although children show incredible strength and resilience. Of course. The first lung cancers were within two years and the first deaths were fairly rapid. . which we know goes tremendous distances. displacement or separation from family. Older children are more likely to survive on their own." What makes children in war particularly vulnerable and at high risk? War makes everybody potentially vulnerable. death. The most obvious ones include the risk of orphanage. Dr. who holds a Ph. War exposes children to a whole host of risks ± some of them unimaginable. He developed cancer of the larynx and throat within nine months." said Julia Freedson. "This was in Saudi Arabia. Additionally.S.Major Doug Rokke. children may become easy targets for armed groups or forces looking for new recruits." he said.D. in physics. They may be at risk of being trafficked. said many of the men in his cleanup crew developed the same kinds of cancers seen among Iraqi children. and you're talking about the UN Security Council and other big international bodies. now retired. "The first member of our staff to develop cancer was sleeping downwind from where we collected the contaminated equipment. Losing access to health services also puts children at great risk as this can mean death or long-term effects following a simple injury or illness that has not been or cannot be cured. U. Rokke. was in charge of cleaning up American tanks hit by DU during the Gulf War²casualties of friendly fire.

More than 130 countries have ratified a treaty banning the use of mines."By the time we're done talking about what we should be doing to protect the kids. and the United States²still pose grave dangers to civilians. arguing that they mark minefields and therefore their explosives aren't a danger to civilians. says the convention interferes with how countries treat children within their own borders. The treaty guarantees children's rights to education. Britain." Take. But many countries. and so forth. every country in the United Nations has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child except Somalia and the United States. to me this is an absolutely silly position. Ambassador Michael Southwick. a site of heavy fighting between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians during the Balkans conflict. and a decent standard of living. which purports to be a champion for children. they're much more likely to be killed than adults because of their smaller body size and their vulnerability to the kinds of injuries that landmines cause. a US State Department deputy secretary. it's a product of religious traditions. Safety Training for Children Since 1997. But that's not how it looks to the victims. US Opposes International Treaties While many countries have not signed the landmine treaty. "When I travel outside of the United States I'm repeatedly asked by both government officials as well as people in civil society why the US. housing. "How people treat children in the world is a product of culture." But human rights activist Jo Becker says failure to ratify the convention damages US credibility around the world. "Some countries try to give it the status of a secular religion and say this is the only standard in the world. Jo Becker of the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch says landmines can have a particularly devastating effect on children. and to say that one treaty negotiated at one particular time is the be-all and end-all on children is a little bit absurd. Becker said. when the treaty took effect. the issue of landmines. thousands of grade school children have seen a play in which animal characters discover an unexploded bomb. The US Senate has refused to ratify the treaty because it bans the death penalty for anyone under 18 and allegedly takes rights away from parents. the use of landmines has declined around the world. In this region." she said. has not ratified the . "When children step on landmines. Many of the children live in Tetovo. including the United States. for example. once part of Yugoslavia. landmines planted by both sides²as well as unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Holland." Southwick said. In Macedonia. have not signed the treaty. many of them have already lost their lives or suffered in other horrible ways.

And don't even get close to unknown objects. among other duties. one of the students who watched the play." The United States has also angered human rights groups by opposing the International Criminal Court. beans. the government and rebels agreed to settle their conflict in 2002. But as recently as July of that year. it breaks a cycle of the United States being outside some fundamental treaties. and cooking oil from the World Food Program. Southwick says the United States also helps children of war by funding agencies that provide emergency relief to parents and children during and after conflicts. Of her five children. . In 2002 the United States ratified the optional protocol banning child soldiers. Experts estimate that between 7 and 11 percent of the bomblets do not explode on impact. Angola still could face serious food shortages because landmines and war-damaged roads make it difficult to reach the former child soldiers and other civilians in remote areas. Such assistance is provided at a feeding center operated by the World Food Program in the city of Kuito." he said. "The message from the play is not to touch unknown objects. Her one-year-old baby is moderately malnourished. "Tell our parents if there is danger. Angola." said Emma. Adalia Cacassava is among those receiving corn meal. Cluster bombs are not covered by the landmine treaty. but she thinks the food will help her recover. which. Education efforts like the play put on by the International Committee of the Red Cross are helping children understand the importance of not picking them up.most basic convention designed to protect them. but do pose a danger to children. Cluster bombs are made up of many small bomblets contained within one large delivery system. But today the situation has improved. or treaties that are regarded as fundamental by a number of countries. The State Department's Southwick says US ratification of this treaty is significant. the infant is the only sick one. some 45 percent of children were chronically malnourished. on human rights issues. will prosecute individuals committing war crimes against children. "First and foremost. After 27 years of vicious civil war in that country." American Progress But those same groups concede America has made progress on other fronts.

" Ogata said. a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees. naming. he offers this appeal: "No matter what quarrels we have among ourselves." she said." . and so on. of not only security problems but also poverty problems. the international attention seems to fade away a bit and the money doesn't come.The World's Short Attention Span Sadako Ogata. "You cannot just keep on protecting refugees in refugee camps for decades. people don't have the resources to be present in unstable areas. in which all these children can be safe and protected. but for the whole world. and that we should create a world. and shaming parties in conflict that continue to abuse children and mobilize international pressure to lean on them to change their practices. "While we emphasize the importance of protecting their well-being. I think there has to be a much bigger effort made to solving their problems." These days Ogata. the United Nations must apply these international norms to individual countries. children wouldn't suffer if their parents didn't wage war. "In Africa I think there's a double problem. he said. refugee crisis. worries that children in countries such as Angola suffer when world attention shifts to new crises." A Parental Problem Certainly. reporting. She says the best way to protect children and their parents from the ravages of war is to work with countries and communities so they avoid fighting in the first place. "And it is really political negotiation insisting on peace. But has all this international attention helped promote those concepts in practice? Olara Otunnu. like a war in Iraq." Otunnu said he is also worried that some nations continue to ignore international laws protecting children Whether they are Third World dictatorships or industrialized democracies. the United Nation's special representative for children and armed conflict. That is not only bad for the children. And so I hope we could agree that all our children are entitled to special attention and protection. "When there is not the really big outflow of people. safety. and insisting on stabilizing societies. who is now a fellow at the Ford Foundation." Otunnu said. said in an interview that ratifying international treaties has been a major and necessary step forward. insisting on security. for the refugees. especially the world of the 21st century. focuses her efforts on the concept of human security. children have not contributed to that. And every country agrees that at least in theory nations must not conduct war against civilians. Now. "And we must now move to begin systematically monitoring. "We must translate these norms into a protective regime on the ground that can save a child in danger in situations of conflict.

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