This week’s UN General Assembly is the time for leaders to turn words into action, says World Vision, as the number of children fighting in armed groups continues to rise.
“More than a quarter of the world’s children living in countries affected by conflict, crisis and disaster, and the number being forced to fight in adult wars is soaring,” says Chris Derksen-Hiebert, World Vision’s Director of Policy and External Relations
“More than ever, we are seeing children caught in the crossfire of adult wars. They are witnessing and experiencing every form of violence imaginable. This International Day of Peace, we need leaders to commit to doing better by children.
“Children like those in South Sudan who have seen their families killed and have fled the country.”
Tens of thousands of children are separated from their parents and are fending for themselves in refugee camps.
“I was jumping over dead bodies. There were burning cars, shooting. I ran for my life,” says 12-year-old John, now living as a refugee in Uganda. “Children were cut and bleeding. Some had their limbs cut off. I lost count of the number slaughtered… they come to me in my dreams sometimes.”
Meanwhile in Iraqi Kurdistan, boys and girls who fled Mosul are deeply traumatised, but there isn’t enough funding for programmes to help them heal from their experiences, let alone begin the reconstruction effort.
“Our social workers are dealing with young girls who were forced to marry ISIL fighters or become sex slaves. They recently found a five-year-old girl who’d seen her family killed and been abused in this way. She was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and constantly trying to dig holes and bury herself. She would scream if anyone touched her,” says Ian Dawes, World Vision’s Response Manager in Iraq. “At one of World Vision’s child friendly spaces, I saw a young boy drawing a picture of his father being decapitated.”
Shockingly, adults are increasingly using children to fight their battles for them. According to the United Nations, the use of child soldiers in the Middle East and North Africa has doubled in the past year. Children are now thought to make up 60 per cent of militias in the Kasai region of the DRC.
“These kids are used as soldiers, spies, suicide bombers and human shields. They have no choice. It’s kill or be killed,” says Chris Derksen Hiebert, World Vision’s Director of Policy and External Relations.
“Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 (End exploitation and violence against children) was a promise that we would do better. There is some admirable work going on to make good on that pledge, but it will take all of us working together to achieve it by 2030. The international community must redouble efforts to protect vulnerable children and help broker peace where it’s needed most.”
World Vision has been working in what is now known as South Sudan, since 1989. We’re currently assisting hundreds of thousands of children and their families affected by conflict and hunger; including those who’ve fled to neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. We’re providing emergency food aid, treatment for malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, agricultural training and support, clean water, hygiene and sanitation kits, child friendly spaces, early education and peacebuilding training.
World Vision is working in camps throughout the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The organisation provides immediate assistance to families as they arrive in the camps including food, water, mattresses and healthcare, as well as longer-term education, protection and economic development programs to ensure they can recover and start rebuilding their lives.
As part of World Vision’s child protection programs, teams of social workers identify some of the most vulnerable children in the camps and provide essential care. The social workers offer psychosocial support and connect the children with other services, such as medical experts, to help them recover. The social workers also help reunify unaccompanied and separated children with their families.
Democratic Republic of Congo
World Vision has been delivering relief, rehabilitation and development programmes to children and their families affected by conflict, disasters and poverty since 1984. Currently, WV operates in 14 out of the country’s 26 provinces, with programming in protection, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, food assistance, food security, peacebuilding and emergency relief reaching almost 2.5m people as direct beneficiaries in 2015. We are the World Food Programme’s (WFP) biggest partner in country, distributing food to nearly one million people.
Since the violence erupted in the Kasai region, World Vision has been aiming to reach more than 146,000 people in the Grand Kasai region, as well as refugees who’ve fled to Angola. Initial interventions focus on food and child protection.
Working with World Food Programme we have distributed foodstuffs to more than 28,000 people in Kasai Central – these are the first food distributions in the region since the crisis began. We are also planning a scale up with WFP to a further 120,000 individuals through December, as well as the opening of six Child Friendly Spaces, back to school distributions of bags and supplies, and education interventions which will reach over 30,000 children affected by the conflict.