International | Children facing war

Every Thursday, we return to a significant subject in the world, thanks to the perspective and expertise of a researcher from the Center for International Studies and Research, the University of Montreal, or the Raoul-Dandurand Chair, from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

There are more countries than ever in violent conflict in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. The first victims of these wars? The children. From Ukraine to the Middle East, they are deprived of care and food, injured and often killed. However, these little ones who too often fall into oblivion have rights.

The numbers are bloodcurdling. In January 2023, one in six children lived in a conflict zone, or more than 449 million of them, according to the NGO Save the Children. In recent months, the number of conflicts has continued to rise. Some make the headlines, others escape us. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Yemen, Cameroon, Ukraine, Sudan and Gaza, children suffer the consequences of this violence to a disproportionate extent.

As 2024 begins, this new year should be one where the international community puts forward children’s rights and their importance in order to protect the most vulnerable.

In addition to bombs

More than 43 million children have been displaced by conflict and violence worldwide by the end of 2022, according to UNICEF. The aftermath is often disastrous: they become slaves, victims of human trafficking, abused and exploited.

They also live in untenable uncertainty on the margins of any institution: without papers, without official immigration status and without access to the education and health systems, which makes their situation even more precarious. Living in a war zone permeated by violence has major psychological consequences.

In addition, drinking water is often difficult to access for many families. Infectious diseases (cholera, dengue fever, measles or malaria) threaten their health in areas weakened by conflicts. Some of these diseases would, in peacetime, be more easily avoided or treatable, but the difficulty, if not impossibility, of obtaining access to vaccines and health services has catastrophic effects.


A Ukrainian child holds a sign reading “Dad, I’m waiting for you” during a gathering of relatives and friends of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv on December 31.

A conflict afters the other

The war between Israel and Hamas has disastrous consequences in the Middle East. On October 7, around thirty children were killed in the Hamas attack, according to Israeli authorities. Forty children were also reportedly taken hostage, some of whom were released. In Gaza, more than 8,000 Palestinian children were killed during Israeli bombings, according to the Hamas-led enclave’s Health Ministry. This figure far exceeds the number of children killed each year in all conflict zones since 2019, according to the UN. To this grim toll must be added Palestinian and Israeli children injured, mutilated, orphaned or traumatized by the war – and all those who escape the count.

This isn’t the only place where children are on the front lines. More than 1,700 of them have been killed or injured since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, according to the UN. There have been reports of disappearances in Ukraine: more than 19,500 children have been abducted by Russian forces since February 18, 2022. In reality, these figures could be much higher as Russia has announced the displacement of 700,000 children since the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. These children, some of whom are detained by Russia in rehabilitation camps, are victims of Russian assimilation policies aimed at transforming them into Russian citizens.


A displaced child from Sudan’s Jazira state stands in front of temporary shelters in the eastern town of Gedaref on December 28.

This forgotten Sudan

While the humanitarian situation there was already fragile, Sudan is once again in the grip of a civil war opposing factions of society: the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The major humanitarian crisis currently underway is reminiscent of the tragic situation in Darfur in 2003. The country now has the largest displacement of children in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: 45 million of people inside the country since April 2023. More than 1 million have fled to neighboring countries such as Chad, Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. UNICEF reports egregious cases of sexual violence and records thousands of severe violations, including killing and mutilation. Many also live in a state of continual fear… that of being killed, injured or recruited by armed groups.

Today more than ever, we have the legal and political tools allowing us to help and support children in their development and fulfillment.

They are too often relegated to second place when it comes to war or armed conflict, with disastrous consequences for future generations. Canada, a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should make children’s rights one of its key issues for 2024.


Leave a Comment