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Twice invisible: Accounting for internally displaced children



Internally displaced children are twice invisible in global and national data. First, because internally displaced people (IDPs) of all ages are often unaccounted for. Second, because age-disaggregation of any kind of data is limited, and even more so for IDPs.

Planning adequate responses to meet the needs of internally displaced children, however, requires having at least a sense of how many there are and where they are. This report presents the first estimates of the number of children living in internal displacement triggered by conflict and violence at the global, regional and national levels.

There are 17 million children living in internal displacement because of conflict or violence around the world, and millions more whose displacement was associated with disasters, climate change or other causes. About 5.2 million are under the age of five. About 9.2 million are of primary and lower-secondary school age, between 5 and 14. An additional 2.5 million are between the ages of 15 and 17.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the largest number of IDPs under the age of 18, with an estimated 8.2 million, or 48 per cent of the global population of internally displaced children. The Middle East and North Africa account for about 4.4 million IDPs under 18, followed by Central and South America with 1.9 million, South Asia with 1.6 million, Europe and Central Asia with about 705,000 and East Asia and the Pacific with 251,000. The countries with the highest estimated number of IDPs under the age of 18 are Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen and Ethiopia, each of them accounting for more than a million children living in internal displacement.

Children are commonly viewed as one of the most vulnerable groups of people in internal displacement associated with conflict, violence or disasters. This report presents examples showing why that may be, although the impacts of internal displacement vary greatly from one context to the next. In rare cases, when the right policies are in place, displaced children may even experience an improvement in their living conditions, with increased access to healthcare or education, for instance.

Most reports on internally displaced children, however, point to harm to their security, physical and mental health and access to quality education.2 This harm, if unaddressed, can have repercussions that will last into adulthood and even after displacement.

Given that more than 40 per cent of all people internally displaced by conflict and violence are under the age of 18, any attempt at preventing or responding to internal displacement should include a focus on children. They have remained invisible in internal displacement data and overlooked in many policies and debates on the phenomenon. This report is intended to demonstrate the scale and urgency of the issue and serve as a baseline against which progress can be assessed in coming years.