GENEVA - The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports children are the main victims of war, with many suffering mental stress that will last a lifetime.
Children worldwide are subjected to multiple forms of abuse on a daily basis, but the U.N. Children’s Fund says these forms of physical and psychological violence pale in comparison to what children are forced to endure in situations of conflict.
UNICEF Child Protection Programs chief Susan Bissell says far too many children around the world are caught in situations of conflict, where they are killed, maimed and subjected to untold horrors.
“We are saying at present, though I suspect this is an underestimation, that about one billion children live in countries and territories affected by conflict. It sort of feels like the world is falling apart for children," said Bissell.
Since the war in Syria broke out in March 2011, the United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed. At least 10,000 were children, with many more maimed.
It reports 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria, about three million of them children. In addition, half of the three million refugees in neighboring countries are children.
Bissell says children have fallen victim to continuous, widespread and systematic violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
She says all warring factions are committing crimes with impunity and subjecting children to appalling abuse.
“We know that numerous armed groups are recruiting and using children for logistical support, handling ammunition, manning checkpoints and as combatants. Recruitment of children or pressure to join groups is also occurring among refugee populations in neighboring countries - a disturbing trend. The U.N. has also documented the detention and torture of children for association with a party to conflict, targeted sexual violence against children, both boys and girls, and deliberate attacks against schools and hospitals," she said.
She says children are vulnerable to trafficking and to sexual and other forms of exploitation. She says forced and early marriages, as well as child labor are on the rise.
Susan Bissell says children who witness the killings and destruction around them, children who are separated from their families, and children who are abused sexually and otherwise, very often suffer from psychological and emotional distress.
She says UNICEF tries to ease their pain by providing counseling and tries to protect them by creating so-called child-friendly spaces where children can play and study without fear of having their rights violated.