Violence and insecurity have forced more than 28 million children from their homes in 2018, UNICEF said in a news release Thursday.
The U.N. children’s fund said it had responded to more than 300 emergencies to help children caught in many of the 40 armed conflicts raging around the world.
UNICEF said children had been tortured, raped, used as human shields or suicide bombers, recruited as child soldiers and subjected to a myriad of other atrocities by armed groups.
While fighting has killed and maimed tens of thousands of children, UNICEF said many more had died from the indirect consequences of conflict, rather than the war itself. For instance, it noted, a child dies of preventable diseases every 10 minutes in Yemen, site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Caryl Stern, president and chief executive officer of UNICEF USA, told VOA that food insecurity had caused the rate of severe acute malnutrition to rise, with one in four children around the world being malnourished.
“For example, the Central African Republic, there has been such a dramatic resurgence in the fighting there … so two out of three kids are in need of humanitarian assistance in CAR right now,” Stern said. “And 43,000 children below age 5, they are projected to face an extremely elevated risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition.”
UNICEF said escalating fighting and attacks on schools and teachers in Cameroon and in the border regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger had deprived millions of children of an education. Similarly, it said, conflict in the Lake Chad Basin is putting the education of 3.5 million children at risk.
Stern said sexual violence against women and girls was being used as a weapon of war in many conflicts.
“In northeast Nigeria, where you have armed groups, including the Boko Haram, they continue to target girls,” Stern said. “This is including rape. They are forced to become wives of fighters. They are used as human bombs. I mean, what is really going on there is just horrific.”
Stern said children had been abused in all countries and regions of conflict — in Afghanistan, in Myanmar, in Iraq, in Syria, eastern Ukraine and Central America. She said children were being victimized by political leaders who use them as pawns to push a political agenda.
“The border of our own country, the various different things that are happening around the world — Bangladesh and Myanmar. We have to separate the issue of politics from the issues that surround children,” she said.
Stern said children are not migrants. They are not refugees. They are not Somalia’s children or Yemen’s children or Syria’s children or Rohingya children. She said they are children first and foremost, and that there’s nothing political about saving the life of a child.