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6/4 – Remembering Children

The International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

Written by Eleanor Gaston, Mount St. Joseph University Intern, Summer 2016

When war happens, children are often the most vulnerable people affected.  They suffer physical, mental, and emotional abuse and trauma at the hands of the adults in power. As a result of war, children also suffer with more immediate impacts: hunger and a disruption in their education due to the inability to attend school. In Nigeria, in 2014, Boko Haram used 21 girls as suicide bombers in crowded public spaces to maximize their impact and strike fear in the community. The exact numbers of children impacted is difficult to find. In a 2014 article, UNICEF Child Protection Programs chief Susan Bissell shared, “We are saying at present, though I suspect this is an underestimation, that about one billion children live in countries and territories affected by conflict.  It sort of feels like the world is falling apart for children.”

Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in her annual report to the Human Rights Council, made the following statement: “Children were disproportionately affected, displaced and often the direct targets of acts of violence intended to cause maximum civilian casualties and terrorize entire communities [including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syra]. Groups perpetrating extreme violence also particularly targeted children pursuing their right to an education.”

Children, both boys and girls, are recruited to engage in war as soldiers, servants, war brides, and sex slaves.  Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 8), forcing children under the age of 18 to engage in war is considered a war crime.  There seems to be some confusion around this issue when some children “voluntarily” join armies out of loyalty to their community. Children are also given to armies by their parents because, as soldiers, children are assured housing and at least one meal a day.  In situations of extreme poverty, people make difficult choices as a way to survive.  Adult commanders of armies take advantage of the circumstances brought on by war.  “Involuntary” recruitment refers to children who are kidnapped and forced into service.  Whether “voluntary” or “involuntary” the fact remains that adult commanders are to be held responsible for using children in war.

Children As Victims of WarOnce a child has been recruited and participated in war, they are often not seen as victims.  Once captured, the children are often held in detention and prosecuted for war crimes, which is just one more violation of their human rights.

Adults have a responsibility to insure that children are free from non-recruitment and non-participation in armed conflict under the age of 18.  For that reason, June 4th of each year has been designated “The International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.”  An emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the question of Palestine was held on August 19, 1982 to address the appalling number of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese children who were victims of Israel’s acts of aggression.   The purpose of the day is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse. This day affirms the UN’s commitment to protect the rights of children.

To learn more about what is being done to help children in war torn communities, below is a list of resources: