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How We're Helping Children in Conflict

Warning: this blog discusses the use of violence, abuse and rape against children.

“All wars, whether just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are waged against the child.” – Eglantyne Jebb, our founder.

Our screens are full of the horrors of the war in Ukraine, but around the world more and more children are feeling the brutal effects of ongoing conflict. 

All of us need to find the strength to stand with children: they’re more at risk in conflict now than at any time in the last 20 years.


Our latest Stop The War on Children report, published in 2020, sheds light on a worrying trend of increased brutality against children in conflict – especially in the last few years. The number of UN-verified cases of killing and maiming of children has increased by nearly 300% since 2010.

A staggering one in six children live in areas impacted by conflict – that’s about 426 million. And  the number of children living near to the most intense conflict zones rose significantly between 2018-19 alone – from 4 million to 9 million.

And right now, the situation is critical. At least 15 children have already been killed in Ukraine; in Afghanistan, millions are cut off from life-saving services; in Yemen, almost seven years of war has left over 12 million children needing help - yet now, of all times, the UK government has cut its aid budget to Yemen by more than half.

Find out more in our most recent report on the war on children: ‘Killed and Maimed: A generation of violations against children’


Gareth Owen, our Humanitarian Director, breaks it down: 

In Ukraine – where we’ve been working for over 7 years - we’re planning to deliver lifesaving aid to over 3 million children and their families. And we’re calling on the UK Government to make sure that they put Ukraine’s children at the heart of their response. 

In Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, donations from amazing people like you means we can reach children with the lifesaving aid they need – from something as small as a face mask or a first-aid kit, to something as large as a safe learning space for children in refugee camps.  

You can find out more about the children behind the stats, and our work to help them, further down this blog.


No matter how much time or money you’re able to spare, you can make an incredible difference for children living in conflict.

A monthly donation of just £3 is enough to provide 18 food paste sachets for severely malnourished children.

Or you can sign our petition calling directly on the UK Government to ensure Ukraine’s children aren’t forgotten, and that the UK can be a safe sanctuary for those fleeing.

We’ve also got resources to help you, your friends and family stay informed:

Our most recent report on children in conflict, ‘Killed and Maimed: A Generation of Violations Against Children’

Our guide on how to talk to children about war

The Children Behind the Numbers

Every year, the UN publishes a report ‘naming and shaming’ warring parties who have perpetrated six grave violations of children’s rights in conflict. Here’s the six violations, and how they’re impacting children:

1.     Killing and maiming of children in conflict

More than one-third of killing and maiming violations were caused by explosive weapons – with the number dramatically higher in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Afghanistan accounts for the greatest number, with 874 children killed and 2,275 children maimed in 2019 – 30% of the total number of children killed and maimed across all the conflict situations covered in the report.

One of the greatest increases of verified incidents of killing and maiming in 2019 was in Mali, where there was a 130% rise. The number of children killed rose more sharply than those maimed - more than doubling from 77 to 185 between 2018 and 2019.

Olha rides on a bike

Picture credit: Simon Edmunds/Save the Children

Six-year-old Olha* lives with her family on the frontline, in Eastern Ukraine. 

She loves to draw and is super ambitious – she wants to be a dancer, a cook, a police officer and a doctor.

When she was three, she almost lost her life to a mine on the street. Doctors managed to save her, though they couldn’t remove the shrapnel from her stomach.

But she – and we – won’t let that stop her from achieving her dreams. We’re helping her get one step closer to her goals with educational resources and social activities at a local Save the Children community centre. 

2.     Recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups

The youngest child reported to have been recruited to an armed group in 2019 was just 6 years old. And in Yemen, 20% of recruited children were under 15.

Geographically, the DRC on its own represented 40% of the total number of children recruited into armed groups – that’s over 3,000.

The recruitment and use of children continued at scale in many countries. In Syria, 97% of the 820 children recruited were used in combat roles; in Myanmar, cases tripled in 2019 from 88 to 247 – the highest total since 2013 and including children as young as 12.

Peter holds up his arms, letting birds fly from his hands

Picture credit: Louis Leeson / Save The Children

Peter*, a gentle, smiling 14-year-old, loves school - especially maths, drama and drawing. But when he was 10, fighting broke out in his neighbourhood in South Sudan. An armed group recruited him. “They gave us weapons for shooting,” he says. “They were teaching us skills – how to hide ourselves or run.”

It was Peter’s belief in education that gave him the strength to escape – he fled to Uganda in the hope of going back to school. Now he’s learning again.

Peter has big ambitions for both himself and his country: “When I finish my studies and graduate, I want to become the President of the Republic of South Sudan." 

3.     Rape and sexual violence

Access, stigma and difficulty monitoring and reporting such violations mean that many incidents are not captured and/or recorded.

Despite this, 749 cases were verified in 2019. Of these, 98% were committed against girls, and the cases attributed to state actors almost doubled from 2018.

The highest number of verified violations in 2019 were in DRC, where 249 cases were reported. All of these involved girls, some of whom were used for sexual slavery. Somalia had the second highest number of these cases in 2019, with 227 verified violations.

The greatest rise of verified cases was in Afghanistan, where there were 18 cases in 2019 affecting 13 boys and 5 girls.

4.      Attacks on schools and hospitals

War doesn’t only affect children physically – it affects their futures too.

Although there was an almost 40% reduction in verified attacks on schools and hospitals between 2018-19, attacks by state actors nearly doubled.

The report verifies 469 attacks on schools and education personnel, 478 attacks on hospitals and medical personnel, 181 incidents of military use of schools, and 11 incidents of military use of hospitals and medical facilities.

The highest number of attacks on schools and hospitals were verified in Syria with 296 incidents, with most of the attacks occurring in Idlib.

Salem*, 13, sits in front of his school in Yemen

 “Children are the future of the country.”

Salem* dreams of being a doctor one day – but like so many other children in Yemen, he was facing challenges with his learning.

Broken blackboards, destroyed playgrounds and damaged buildings made it hard for children like Salem to get an education. Many schools simply aren’t safe for children to go to.

But with support from amazing people like you, Salem is one step closer to making his dream a reality. We’re helping affected schools with vital supplies like blackboards, desks and school bags – meaning children like Salem can get back into school, where he can get back to studying.

5.      Abduction

As of our most recent report, over 1,800 children were abducted  - a significant drop from the 2,500 reported in 2018, though there were increases in Iraq, Mali and Myanmar.

Somalia (1,158), DRC (305) and Nigeria (165) have some of the highest numbers, but in all three cases the numbers fell from 2018.

6.      Denial of humanitarian access

Incidents of humanitarian access being denied to children were almost six times higher in 2019 than 2018 – up from 795 to 4,402. This is by far the highest number ever recorded.

In Yemen, the number rose from 275 in 2018 to 1,848 in 2019 and included restrictions on movement both into and within the country, interference with humanitarian assistance, and violence against humanitarian workers, assets and facilities.

And verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access remain high in Mali (129), and in Syria (84) where incidents included attacks on water facilities, the removal or blocking of humanitarian supplies, and attacks on humanitarian facilities, transport and people.

*names changed

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