A distressing report from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, says that more then one billion children live in countries or territories affected by armed conflict. Just think of it: that’s about one-sixth of the world’s total population. More than 300 million of these children are under the age of five, and 18 million children are refugees or displaced persons, reports the Population Reference Bureau.
Children are not only directly affected during wars and armed conflict, but suffer from effects that can last for years or entire lifetimes. The proliferation of small arms, armed groups, and terrorism and counter-terrorism measures all impact the long-term development and well-being of children.
The trend of armed groups targeting civilians, including children, continues. Violence is fragmented — there are fewer inter-state conflicts but rebellions and secessionist movements multiply, leading to the victimisation of civilians, deterioration of basic services, social divisions and the decline of local economies.
Children are forced into labour and to act as soldiers by these paramilitary groups. They have been targeted by terrorist groups and also used to perpetrate terrorist acts. Counter-terrorist measures then result in hundreds of children being detained in various conflict areas.The report notes:
According to the Control Arms Campaign, an average of $22 billion a year is spent on arms by countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The campaign points out that this sum would otherwise enable those same countries to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals of achieving universal primary education (estimated at $10 billion a year) as well as targets for reducing infant and maternal mortality (estimated at $12 billion a year).
The blighting of the lives of so many of the world’s children is a tragedy (and a crime) that should drive negotiators to much greater efforts to reconcile warring groups.