Children must be protected from the worst effects of war

Published : 18 Nov 2023 02:33 PM | Updated : 18 Nov 2023 03:42 PM
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As next Monday is Universal Children’s Day, which is also known as World Children’s Day, it is important to reassert the rights of children around the world. The international community must ensure all children’s well-being and development. We must also recognize the fact that investing in our future requires investing in our children.

At the end of the First World War, Eglantyne Jebb founded the Save the Children organization. She drafted a clear document in which she stressed the rights of children and the duty of the international community to protect them and ensure and prioritize their rights. Her document was adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.

This development was important because it was considered to be the first document related to human rights adopted by an intergovernmental organization. Later, it became the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

The UN General Assembly subsequently selected Nov. 20 as Universal Children’s Day, the same date that it adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. Three decades later, the UN adopted an expanded version of the document, which is now known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The importance of this convention is that it includes a wide range of human rights, ranging from social, cultural, educational, political and civil rights to economic rights.

Children’s rights include having access to essentials such as food, shelter, healthcare, education and clean water.

Children’s rights include having access to essentials such as food, shelter, healthcare, education and clean water, as well as safety from any form of exploitation and protection from physical and emotional harm.

Children must also be able to express their opinions and be treated with respect for their perspectives and views. Three critical pillars of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are the protection of children from any type of discrimination, prioritization of the best interests of the child and ensuring the rights of children to life, development and survival.

Nevertheless, nearly a century after Jebb’s draft document on children’s rights was adopted, the international community seems to be failing to fully protect children, particularly in times of war. For example, Gaza is today becoming a “graveyard for children,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Children are the ones that bear much of the brunt of war. “Children ... have started to develop serious trauma symptoms such as convulsions, bed-wetting, fear, aggressive behavior, nervousness, and not leaving their parents’ sides,” stated Gaza psychiatrist Fadel Abu Heen last month. Even before the latest round of violence in Gaza erupted, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “West Bank: Spike in Israeli Killings of Palestinian Children.” The August report warned that last year was “the deadliest year for Palestinian children in the West Bank in 15 years, and 2023 is on track to meet or exceed 2022 levels.”

The international community seems to be failing to fully protect children, particularly in times of war

One of the most critical problems is the UN’s inability to implement an immediate ceasefire to end the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel. The implementation of a ceasefire is supported by a majority of UN Security Council members, but the US, Israel’s staunchest ally, has blocked a resolution calling for one. Nearly 100 UN member states have also called for a ceasefire, but the organization is paralyzed and unable to take action. It is fundamentally undemocratic when a single member can prevent the UNSC from calling for a ceasefire to protect children and allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Guterres has already expressed his frustration at the UN’s inability to act.

This situation highlights why it is critical for the UN’s structure to be reformed so that one member cannot overrule the will of the majority. Instead of a ceasefire, the UNSC on Wednesday passed a resolution that calls for “urgent extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza and asks that “all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children.” This was a step in the right direction that was led by Malta’s ambassador to the UN, Vanessa Frazier.  

Children in Sudan are also bearing the brunt of a war that has been going on for seven months.

Millions of children are being exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation, and more than 1,000 children under the age of five have died in nine camps in the country. Another tragedy is that the recruitment of children as soldiers has been seen in Sudan. “The recruitment of children by armed groups for any form of exploitation — including in combat roles — is a gross violation of human rights, a serious crime and a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Siobhan Mullally, the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Unfortunately, during conflicts and times of instability, some armed groups implement various tactics to recruit foreign children. They often prey on children and families who are vulnerable. Some are kidnapped and coerced, while other families are offered financial incentives to give up their children to fight in conflicts. In addition, many of these children come from lower socioeconomic classes and the recruiters exploit their poverty.

In a nutshell, it is the duty of the international community to put children’s safety, as well as their social, economic, political and civil rights, at the top of its agenda. If we want to invest in the future, we must start with investing in our children.  

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Source: Arab News