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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Children under attack on a 'shocking scale' in conflicts around the world: UNICEF

One in four children is currently living in a conflict zone somewhere in the world

Syrian children sit at a makeshift clinic f in the rebel-held town of Douma in Syria's eastern Ghouta region. Hamza Al Ajweh / AFP
Syrian children sit at a makeshift clinic f in the rebel-held town of Douma in Syria's eastern Ghouta region. Hamza Al Ajweh / AFP

Children in conflict areas around the world are being turned into front-line targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight, Unicef said on Thursday.

The UN agency issued a statement warning that 2017 had seen children come under attack on a "shocking scale", including in Chad, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria, among others.

In Afghanistan almost 700 children were killed in the first nine months of 2017 alone, in South Sudan more than 19,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and more than 11 million children are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen - with 1.8 million suffering from malnutrition.

Children are invariably the most vulnerable pieces of a violent puzzle, with the ongoing conflicts across the globe now home to 535 million children — or one in four. From war to displacement to the devastation caused by seasonal storms and the impact of El Nino and La Nina, complex and protracted emergencies aggravate the risks these children face and exacerbate their needs, said Unicef.

They also pose a long-term threat, potentially reversing hard-won development gains around the world.

"There are rules in place, under international humanitarian law, to protect civilians, including children, in conflict," Unicef spokesman Joe English told The National. "The problem is that parties to these conflicts around the world are blatantly disregarding these rules."

Key infrastructure for children's well-being has also been targeted, with attacks on more than 200 health centres and 400 schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"It's vital that all parties involved abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals," said Mr English.

But while immediate emergency responses are needed, aid organisations are also set on tackling the long-term effects and trauma.

"Children often suffer serious and long-term consequences, as their development is threatened or permanently harmed," said Mr English. "Beyond the direct consequences of death or injury, exposure to conflict can damage children’s health, leave them traumatised and in need of psychosocial support, and can stop them receiving the education that will equip them for the future." This in turn is likely to affect the society they live in on a more collective scale.

In a year that has weighed heavily on the aid world, Unicef and its partners have been able to provide access to education to 9.2 million children and psychological support to some 2.4 million.

From Syria to Nigeria, Yemen to Myanmar, there are often children and families living in hard to reach or besieged areas that humanitarian organisations cannot get to. "We continue to call for unimpeded, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to children in conflicts, regardless of their location," Mr English said.

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