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All wars are bad for children 

April 11, 2023 at 12:45 pm

Children gather around a fire to warm themselves during winter in northwestern Idlib, Syria on January 17, 2023 [Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency]

Russia took the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on 1 April. The role is held by each of the member states in turn for one month, in English alphabetical order. This means that the Security Council is being led by a country whose president is subject to an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine by deporting children from Ukraine to Russia. Moscow has not concealed a programme under which it has taken thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, but presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the war zone.

After taking charge of the Security Council, Russia took the opportunity to invite Maria Lvova-Belova, its commissioner for children’s rights who is co-accused with President Vladimir Putin of war crimes, to speak to the UN at an informal Council meeting on Ukraine. When Britain and the US were quick to reject the move, Russia accused them of being afraid to hear the truth.

Irrespective of whose version is accurate about the suffering of Ukrainian children, it must be acknowledged that all wars are bad for children. Data published by UNICEF in 2017 showed that, since 2014, 1,075 children had been killed in Iraq; 1,130 children were maimed and injured; and more than 4,650 children were separated from or unaccompanied by their families. Moreover, 138 schools were destroyed and over three million children were out of school. At least five million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance. That’s in just one country.

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According to Save the Children, almost 33,000 children were killed, wounded or maimed in Afghanistan during the 20 years of war there. That’s an average of one child every five hours by the time the US-led international military forces pulled out of Kabul in 2021.

According to UNICEF again, across Syria, some 2.4 million children aged 5-17 years are currently out of school. They represent nearly half of around 5.52 million school-aged Syrian children. These children fall prey to child labour, early and forced marriage, trafficking and recruitment for fighting. More children are likely to miss out on education and are at risk of dropping out permanently.

The rehabilitation of war-affected children (tertiary prevention), and how to make the experience of being in a war zone less damaging for them (secondary prevention) are important questions that international law has failed to address fully. However, any degree of suffering of children in war compels one to consider ways of removing the cause of the suffering: war itself (primary prevention). How can we replace the current paths to war with a system which favours peace in international law? How do we strengthen UN conflict management capacities? The judicial process covering conflicts also needs to be strengthened, so that the International Court of Justice, for example, can play a more effective role in resolving them.

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More importantly, cultural change within powerful states about the use of aggression in response to conflict, leading to peaceful resolutions, is required. However, such a culture of peace cannot be advanced unless the powerful states, as Amnesty International has pointed out, abandon the “double standards” of adopting a tough response to one war of aggression while maintaining a selective “deafening silence” on other human rights abuses around the world.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.