Over 30 million children are now displaced by war and conflict. «We must increase our efforts to protect, help and bring new opportunities and hope to the youngest and most vulnerable victims of war», says NRC´s Secretary General, Jan Egeland. Children make up 52 percent of the 59.5 million people displaced by war today, according to the new Global Trends Report from UNHCR, which was launched earlier this week.
“We are failing”
«Millions of children are attacked, displaced and let down by the international community. We are failing in protecting them from violence and abuse, and we do not provide them with the assistance they need to cope in some of the world’s most hazardous conflict areas», says Secretary General Jan Egeland, urging for humanitarian access to reach more and increased support to scale up humanitarian operations targeting displaced children.
From Chad to Nepal
The fear and sadness in the eyes of the boy holding in his weapon in Chad. The comradeship among the Maoist child soldiers in Nepal, the emptiness in the eyes of the 6-year old girl with burns on half of her small body after an air strike on her home in Herat, Afghanistan. The two siblings standing alone outside their family hut by the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone, in need of physical contact more than the toys they had been given.
Stener Vogt has met all of them. Seconded by NRC´s emergency roster NORCAP, Vogt has been working with children in conflict areas all over the world, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Chad, Nepal and Liberia. In Norway he is head of department in the social welfare authorities for children in Bærum municipality, providing services and care for young, unaccompanied refugee children.
Although being one of NORCAP's most experienced experts in protection of children in emergencies, meeting the children behind the statistics never stops to make a deep impression on him.
«I do not think there is any child in any emergency that I have meet, that has not affected me, some way or other», he says.
Ticks and body pains
Everywhere Vogt observes the same psychosocial reactions in children who have been exposed to war and displacement. Physical reactions like ticks and body pains are common.
«Changes in their thinking - like not understanding or trusting the world, changes in emotions, like becoming happier or more aggressive without reason, and changes in behaviour, like becoming more passive or active, are also common», he says, pointing out that children’s reactions will vary according to their individual experiences.
«Separation from family, severity of experience and past experiences are all matters that will affect their ability to cope with the circumstances,» said Vogt.
Nearly all displaced children show some changes in emotions, behaviour, thoughts and social relations in the short term. «Mild or moderate mental health problems will always increase slightly after an emergency. These reactions are normal, and with access to basic services, support and security most of children will regain normal function,» he says.
Sadly, millions of children in conflict areas are denied access to such support. In large-scale humanitarian crises such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and South-Sudan, lack of funding and security hampers the efforts to provide the necessary help to children as well as other people in need.
Missing out on schooling
Children in conflict areas also miss out on education, being overrepresented among the children who are not attending school in the world today. A new report from UNESCO shows that children in conflict areas make up 36 percent of all those 58 million children who are out of school in the world today. This is up from 30 percent in 2000.
“The international community made the promise that by 2015, all children should have their right to education fulfilled. Instead millions of girls and boys are still out of school, many living in conflict areas. The international community has failed our most vulnerable children”, says NRC’s education advisor Silje Skeie.
«This is not only against our most basic values of compassion and solidarity. It is also dangerous for ourselves and for our children's safety because it will lead to a more unstable world, says Secretary General, Jan Egeland.
"When children lose their faith in a better future, we are all getting more vulnerable. The consequences of abandoning millions of young people in despair will haunt us for generations".