Conflict kills 300 babies every day

A man walks through an abandoned district of west Mosul, Iraq - Credit: Save the Children

A man walks through an abandoned district of west Mosul, Iraq - Credit: Save the Children

LONDON, February 15—More than half a million babies may have died as a result of conflict over the past five years, a new report by Save the Children shows today.

That’s an average of more than 100,000 deaths annually – or 300 babies every day.

At least 550,000 deaths of children under the age of one could be attributed to the effects of conflict in the 10 worst-affected conflict zones between 2013 and 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, the charity found. [1]

Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia are the countries where children were hardest hit by conflict in 2017. [2]

The death toll does not include children killed directly by fighting.

Instead, it estimates the number of infants and young children who may have died from the knock-on effects of nearby conflict, such as starvation, outbreaks of disease, damage to hospitals, or delays to aid deliveries. [3]

Child deaths rose to 870,000 when all children under the age of five were included. The estimates are likely conservative.

By comparison, the charity estimates that almost 175,000 fighters or soldiers were killed in the conflicts over the same five-year period. [4]

The horrific impact on children is partly the result of protracted modern conflicts, often fought among civilian populations.

But there is also a crisis in accountability – with persistent, widespread and sometimes deliberate violations of children’s rights across the globe.

The UK can help address this new reality by standing up for children and committing to protect them.

Save the Children is calling for the UK to urgently implement a new strategy for protecting civilians – with children front and centre – covering diplomacy, defence and aid.

Britain’s cross-government ‘Protection of Civilians Strategy’ was last updated in 2010 and has no specific provisions for children or other vulnerable groups.

Save the Children is calling for the UK to:

  • Track civilian harm and comprehensively record civilian casualties in conflicts the UK is engaged in, as recommended by the Chilcot Inquiry; 
  • Acknowledge the harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, avoid its use and take measures to reduce their impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure; 
  • Consistently call out violations against children in conflict, including by allies; 
  • Raise the urgency of protecting civilians wherever Britain has a seat at the table – including at the UN Security Council, NATO and the G7. 

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, said:

“The UK should be using its global influence to protect children living in war zones. From Yemen to Syria and South Sudan, children are bearing the horror of armed conflict.

“Some are treated as collateral damage in urban bombing. Others are deliberately targeted for killing, abduction and recruitment by armed groups. Millions go hungry because humanitarian aid is obstructed.

“Britain should send a clear message to the world: the war on children must end, and those who commit crimes against children will be held to account.”

Research conducted with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) for Save the Children’s Stop the War on Children report found that 420 million children – or nearly one fifth (18%) of all children globally – were living in conflict affected areas in 2017. That’s an increase of 30 million since 2016 and the highest level since 1990.

The charity’s analysis of UN data also shows the number of ‘grave violations’ against children in conflict rose from just under 10,000 in 2010 to more than 25,000 in 2017 – the highest number on record.

The UN monitors six violations against children in conflict zones: killing and maiming, recruitment by armed groups, abduction, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.

12-year-old Saleh is one child left maimed by the war on children. In the early hours of the morning a missile hit his house in the Yemeni city of Taiz. He woke up in flames, buried under rubble. After a year-and-a-half in hospital in a city far away from home, and many operations to treat his burns, Saleh is only now beginning to stand up and walk again.

I got buried and screamed, and tried to get the fire off me,” Saleh said. “I was asleep and woke up burned. My mother started screaming and came to me while I was on fire.

I hope I can recover and can get back to studying and then get a job. I want to become a doctor and treat patients and children. And that the war in our country ends. I want to go home.

His mother Kalima says:

“Every now and then he had to have another operation. I had jewellery, I had gold. I had two sets of earnings, five bracelets, two long chains and a small necklace set. I sold them for my son.

“He used to say mummy this is painful, mummy this is painful, mummy this is painful.

“He used to have more pain before the operations. He couldn’t lie down or rest. He used to get up and sit like this and cry. And I would sit and cry with him.”

Nine-year-old Hassouni stopped going to school after it was badly damaged by an airstrike during the battle for Mosul. Then, as his family tried to escape the city, they were hit by a car bomb. He was left in a coma. He now has a paralysed hand, constant pain in his arm, and shrapnel lodged in his skull. The blast killed his two brothers, one of them at just two-years-old.

“When the bomb went off, everyone died. I got hit in the head, arm and back. When I try to play or write my arm hurts me,” he says.

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” he adds. “I want to teach my younger siblings. If I teach my brother, he will get better at school. I am a good teacher.”

His mother, Khalida, says: “My children died in vain, hungry and thirsty, they never harmed anyone.

“Every day my grief is renewed. Every day I say I will forget, God willing, but the longer the years pass, I remember them more.

“My children died deprived. We were under siege here. They hadn’t seen anything. If they wanted to eat something, they couldn’t eat anything. If they wanted to get dressed, we couldn’t clothe them. We barely had the means to sustain our livelihood.

“I still have their clothes hidden away. I look at them every day. I still have my son’s bicycle. I’ll take it out every day and look at it and say: ‘that belonged to my son’.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR INTERVIEWS, PLEASE CONTACT:

media@savethechildren.org.uk +44 (0)20 7012 6841 / +44 (0)7831 650409 (out of hours)

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. In a study published in The Lancet, researchers matched child-survival data to data on the intensity, scale and location of armed conflict in 35 African countries over the two decades to 2015. They found that exposure to conflict increased the average risk of death for children under the age of five by 7.7%. The risk was greatest for children under the age of one living in areas with exposure to more intense conflicts over more protracted periods. The deaths recorded by the Lancet study were due to the indirect impact of conflict, including the destruction of livelihoods and assets, of sanitation and food systems, of medical supply chains, and of access to basic services. We have applied the findings to the ten worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child listed above and estimate that in the last five years alone 550,000 infants have died due to the reverberating impact of conflict. The total for children under five is 868,000. These estimates are imperfect – they are indicative and may be conservative.

2. This is based on nine indicators: the prevalence of reports of each of the UN’s six ‘grave violations’ against children in conflict; conflict intensity (measured by the number of recorded casualties); total child population living in conflict-affected areas; and the proportion of children living in conflict zones relative to the population of the country.

3. The estimate measures the impact on children living within 50 kilometres of one or more conflict events in a year, within the borders of a country.

4. Between 2013 and 2017, about 331,000 people died on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, DRC, Iraq Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This total is based on data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program Georeferenced Events Dataset (UCDP-GED), with the exception of Syria where, owing to underreporting, we used Violations Documentation Center data. Of these 331,000 people, a total of 174,703 were combatants according to the same sources.

5. Sign Save the Children’s petition to tell the UK to protect children in conflict.

Save the Children stands side by side with children in the toughest places to be a child.

We do whatever it takes to make sure they survive, get protection when they’re in danger, and have the chance to learn. www.savethechildren.org.uk

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