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  • Save the Children’s research shows that the increase in children living conflict zones has been fuelled by the war in Ukraine.

OSLO, 5 June 2023 – 468 million or more than 1 in 6 children worldwide live in areas affected by armed conflict, according to new reports by Save the Children published today.

As world leaders gather for the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict,  new data by the children’s charity shows that there has been a 2.8% rise of children who live within 50km or less from one or more armed conflicts compared to the previous year (455 million children in 2021 compared to 468 million in 2022). This would mark double number of children affected by war since the mid-1990s.

It’s also a 28% increase since 2015 when world leaders agreed on the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 ambitious objectives focused on protecting the planet, ending poverty and promoting peace.

One child, 10-year-old *Maha from Yemen, was injured by a landmine explosion while collecting wood with her sister. Describing the incident, she said:

“We finished collecting the wood and were about to return home...There was a big stump that I wanted to take with me. I pulled it, and an explosion occurred. I was unconscious. I knew nothing and wasn’t even aware of my wounded eyes.

When asked what her message would be to world leaders ahead of the Oslo Conference, she said: “I wish no one else had to endure what I experienced. If I had a superpower, I would put an end to the war. I would make the city safe – the entire city – to ensure that nobody is harmed.”

The report, “Unprotected: An Analysis of Funding for Child Protection in Armed Conflict”,  reveals that despite the rising numbers of families and children at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, funding is not keeping pace with the humanitarian response required and is leaving nearly 18 million children and their caregivers without protection and assistance.

In 2022, around 22.4 million children and their caregivers in most need were targeted for child protection services requiring funding of nearly $795 million. However, governments only found the money for 19% of this, creating a funding vacuum of over $646 million.

If this trend of underfunding is allowed to continue, the report predicts there will be a $1 billion shortfall for child protection in conflict zones by 2026.

Save the Children’s research also shows that in Europe, the number of children exposed to conflict quadrupled in just one year, from two to nine million children, fuelled by the war in Ukraine. 

Africa remained the region with the highest total of children living in conflict zones – around 183 million. West and Central Africa is also the region with the highest number of children recruited by armed groups. 

As in previous years, the Middle East continued to have the highest share of children living in conflict zones relative to the total child population – 39% of children in the region, or one in three. 

Junior*, 17, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, spent eight months as a child solider in an armed group in 2018. At the age of 12, he was separated from his family due to violence perpetrated by armed groups in his community:

“Friends convinced me to join an armed vigilante group to defend our community from attacks by other armed groups... I had no place to sleep and I didn’t eat well. I was in charge of looking for food for the fighters. Often, I was forced to go into the city to steal, I’d only get rest after providing sustenance for our chief. 

“It was hard for me. I was a slave and experienced a life of servitude...There were three boys and one girl in our group. The girl was required to sleep with our chief every day... Twice, I went into battle against other armed groups. I couldn’t handle this violence and these atrocities. Luckily for me, I made it out alive.”

After eight months, Junior* was freed by a project run by a Save the Children partner organisation. Since then, he has benefitted from psychological support, and found a passion as a tailor. 

Speaking about the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict, Gwen Hines, Save the Children UK’s CEO, said:

“We are witnessing a child protection crisis that will have implications for generations to come. We hope the Oslo Conference will be a game changer for the protection of children in armed conflict. We must get back on track. Countries must ramp up their efforts to prevent grave violations against children, help boys and girls that have survived war, and commit to working towards lasting, sustainable peace, including for neglected conflicts.

“With proper funding and the right support, the impact of violence on a child’s life can be reduced. Children living in conflict zones are incredibly vulnerable to physical harm but also risk being separated from their families, exploited by traffickers or forced into child labour or to become child soldiers. Their education is often suspended. These children deserve their future. They are the adults of tomorrow and supporting them will ultimately have a direct impact on our shared peace and security.”  

Child protection services are critical to keep children safe from harm, particularly children living in war zones or conflict-affected countries. These services protect children from grave violations that occur during war, including recruitment and use by armed groups, child marriage, sexual violence, and killing and maiming.

Money can also be used to support caregivers looking after unaccompanied children, or poverty-stricken families struggling to care for their children.

Worryingly, child protection remains woefully underfunded within overall humanitarian responses – but the cost is not insurmountable. The requirements for child protection represent only 2% of humanitarian requirements in countries where children are in most need. 

Save the Children is calling on world leaders, donors, members of the UN, and NGOs to transform this raised awareness into collective action and work together to prioritise child protection funding in humanitarian responses —and to support children impacted by conflict, including those who are recruited.




[1] If only 19% of funding was delivered, we understand that only 1/5 of the 22.4 million children and caregivers targeted for assistance were reached. This is calculated based on the average spend on each person in need. In reality the costs vary, for example, psychosocial support activities cost between $16-83 USD per child, while assistance and reintegration of children associated with armed groups and forces costs between $300-1500 per child. 

Save the Children’s annual estimates of children living in armed conflict calculated by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) based on conflict data from the Uppsala Data Program (UCDP) show that in 2022 about 468 million children – more than 1 out of 6 – were living in a conflict zone. This number has almost doubled since the mid-1990s. 

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Multimedia content, including case studies available here.



An Analysis of Funding for Child Protection in Armed Conflict:

·       The main source of funding for child protection in humanitarian settings is bilateral donor governments (comprising 75% of all child protection funding). The top three donors for 2022 were the USA, Germany, and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department. 

·       Child protection is consistently and proportionally less funded than other sectors. In recent years, overall, 60% of funding asked for, was delivered, whereas child protection was only 22% funded in 2021 and 19% funded in 2022. 

·       The numbers of children needing child protection are increasing, but the proportion of humanitarian response funding for child protection is not keeping pace. The number of children and caregivers in need of protection services stood at 66 million in 2022; 30% of these children and caregivers (22.4m) were targeted to receive assistance.

·       By 2026, there will be a $1 billion funding gap for child protection funding in conflict settings, if the trend of underfunding is allowed to continue. With the funding requirement forecast to climb to $1.37bn by 2026, this equates to a 78% funding gap: a drastic rise from a funding gap in 2020 of $325m. In just six years, the funding gap is set to triple.

·       The Analysis of Funding for Child Protection in Armed Conflict has been written by Save the Children in collaboration with the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, the Global Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP AoR), and Humanitarian Funding Forecasting. It is a special edition in an annual report series titled Unprotected, first published in 2019. 

·       The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action is a global, interagency group that sets standards and provides technical support to ensure that efforts to protect children from violence and exploitation are of high quality and effective.

·       The Global Child Protection Area of Responsibility (Global CP AoR) is specifically focused on enhancing child protection coordination and response in humanitarian contexts. CP AoR ensures that the efforts of national and international actors to protect children are well coordinated, achieving maximum quality and impact.

·       Humanitarian Funding Forecasting is an initiative that works to illuminate the hidden stories of humanitarian funding with the aim that we can make decisions based on data-driven analysis, evidence and forecasts.

Children Affected by Armed Conflict report:

·       In 2022, approximately 468 million children (18.8%, or more than 1 out of 6) were living in a conflict zone. This constitutes a 2.8% increase from 2021, when 455 million children lived in a conflict zone. 

·       In 2022, approximately 1.7 billion children (68%, or more than two out of three children) were living in a country affected by conflict. 

·       In 2022, approximately 250 million locally conflict-exposed children were living in high intensity conflict countries, i.e. conflicts with more than 1,000 battle-related deaths. This is an increase of 6.3% from 2021 when approximately 235 million conflict-exposed children lived in high intensity conflict countries, and a 12% increase since 2020 when the corresponding number was some 223 million children.

·       The share of children living in conflict zones has almost doubled, from some 10% in the mid-1990s to almost 19% in 2022.

·       In 2015, when the SDGs were developed, 366 million lived in conflict zones – in 2022 it is 468 million– a jump of 28% in less than a decade.

Children’s Call to action, ‘We don’t have magic powers, but you do’

·       Children from nine different conflict affected countries share their messages and calls to action with world leaders ahead of the Oslo Conference.

Save the Children is a global child rights organisation working for and with children so they can survive, learn and be protected. Save the Children runs programmes that directly reach around 50 million children in around 120 countries every year.

For further enquiries please contact media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409