Friday, 22 March 2013

Protecting Children in Conflict Zones

This ProgBlog article, will focus on the destructive affects of conflict on children and the need  the issue to be a priority when the final post-2015 framework is put in place. The article is part of the Wikiprogress Post 2015 series.

"Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict," Anthony Lake, UNICEF Chief

Since the Syrian Civil War erupted mid way through March 2011, 70,000 people have died, millions are said to be displaced and the battle scarred country has been segmented into areas controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and those who oppose him. Through articles, photos, tweets, Youtube videos, interviews, documentaries, and reports, the world has been witness to genocide in, second by second detail, experiencing the hopeless situation in all the exactitude that modern information engines provide.

To mark the two year anniversary of the conflict, UNICEF and Save the Children have released up to date reports on the war’s devastating affect on Syria’s children. UNICEF notes that nearly half of the four million people in need of aid are under the age of 18 and 536,000 of them are children under the age of five. Furthermore, some 800,000 below the age of fourteen have been internally displaced, while more than 500,000 are spread across neighboring nations as refugees.

Similarly, Save the Children’s report 'Childhood Under Fire' details the impact of the war on children, showing that many are starving, living in pitiful conditions and are losing out on the chance of an education. Citing new research carried out in refugee camps by Bahcesechir University of Turkey, the report reveals that children have been specifically targeted in the war, with one in three children claiming to have been hit, kicked or shot. Instead of going to school, girls are being forced to marry early as a form of protection against the threat of sexual violence and the armed militias are using boys as porters, runners and human shields. One man, Safa, said:

‘I don’t think there is a single child untouched by this war. Everyone has seen death, everyone has lost someone. I know no one who has not suffered as we have. It is on such a scale.’

Save the Children warns that the conflict had brought about ‘a collapse in childhood’ echoing UNICEF’s caution that Syria’s children risk becoming ‘a lost generation’. We need only look at how the lengthy conflict in Somalia catalyzed a collapse in the country’s education system to know how war can curb the development of a country’s child population.

Both reports emphasize the necessity for governments to deliver the $1.5 billion pledged to the humanitarian appeal for Syria, which is designed to target aid both inside the decimated country and to refugees living on its borders and beyond. While STC and UNICEF scramble to acquire these funds, it is arguable that the international community must take a step back and readdress how it can better prevent the fallout of war and disasters.

The brutalities being enacted on Syria’s children is a strong example of why governments must try and find new solutions to deal with the changing nature of modern conflict, which, according to the Minister of International Development of Finland, Heidi Hautala, usually features child- and gender- based violence. On March 13th, more than 100 delegates from over 20 countries met in Helsinki to urge the Post 2015 panel to make conflict prevention, violence reduction, peace building and disaster resilience an integral part of the final framework. The UN convened discussion agreed that despite the relative success of the Millennium Development Goals, they have not managed to fully encompass the vision of the Millennium Declaration, particularly in relation to human rights, justice and equality. In a similar vein, a statement from the Civil Society Core Group stipulated that ‘supporting change in conflict affected and fragile states is now a central challenge in international development.’ The document made a concise and practical list of suggestions for how the Post 2015 development agenda should prevent violent conflict in all societies and concluded with a call for the panel to:

‘build on the vision of the Millennium Declaration and upholds the right of all people to enjoy peace, security and human rights as essential elements of sustainable development.’

Only the coming years will tell if this grandiose statement can be realistically implemented, and if we are to turn our eyes back to Syria, its people will find little comfort in such words. However, it seems essential that in the future, financial aid programs must be supported by a more far-reaching framework that will go some way to preventing such atrocities from happening again.    

Wikichild Coordinator

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