The number of children living in war and conflict zones around the world has increased by 20 per cent, a new report by Save the Children has revealed. Yemen and Syria are on the list of countries accounting for this rise, which is said to be the highest in over a decade.
The NGO's sixth report examining conflict trends for children found that the number of youngsters living in the middle of lethal conflicts in thirteen countries rose by nearly 20 per cent in 2020, up to just under 200 million from 162m a year earlier. It's the second highest increase on record since 2008, when the total was 208m.
This spike was driven partly by outbreaks of violence in Mozambique, as well as ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Yemen, where a Saudi-led military intervention in 2015 against the Houthis has led to one of the worst humanitarian disasters since the Second World War. Along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Philippines, Yemen has the highest percentage of children living near an armed group or force that has recruited children, leaving them at greater risk of recruitment.
The recruitment of child soldiers by the Houthis has been a major source of concern in Yemen. Families send their children to so-called summer camps where adolescents are given combat training and taught why they should fight for God. It's not just a problem with the Houthis, though; government forces are also said to have recruited children.
Poverty and not being able to attend school — factors that have only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic — are among the reasons why children are more vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and forces, said Save the Children. Their duties can range from fighting on the front line to manning checkpoints. Many are also drawn to such groups in search of a sense of belonging, protection from abuse, status or revenge.
Children who are used by armed groups and forces are at greater risk of injury, disability, chronic mental or physical illness, PTSD, sexual violence and, of course, an early death.
"It's simply horrifying that in the shadow of Covid-19 and the UN's call for a global ceasefire, more children than ever before are caught in the crosshairs of the deadliest war zones," said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International. "Millions of children have known nothing but war with appalling consequences for their mental health, ability to go to school, or access to life-saving services. This is a stain on the international community and cannot go on."