It is an unfortunate truth that violence comes in many forms. Children are too often at the receiving end of acts of aggression, whether they be related to armed conflict, gang activity or even domestic violence.
Today is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression. The day, created in 1982 and first celebrated in 1983, is a time to recognize the suffering of children worldwide for whom aggression has taken a physical, mental or emotional toll.
When armed conflict errupts, the innocents of society often bear the greatest burden of the conflict. In fact, it is the immense loss of life among Palestinian and Lebanese children during the conflict with Israel that led the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to designate this day of observation.
Last year, 20 Palestinian children and five Israeli children died in events related to the conflict in the region. Another 448 Palestinian children and two Israel children suffered injuries, says information from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“As a result of international conflicts, countless children have been killed or maimed and many of those who have survived have lost their parents and their means of sustenance,” said UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar on the first observance of the day in 1983.
Two of the latest reports on the effects of armed conflict on children by the present UN Secretary-General deal with the situation in Colombia and the central African region.
In Colombia, there is a long-standing conflict between the government and rogue guerilla forces such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). A March 2012 report found that between June 2009 and August 2011 about half of the more than 294,000 internally displaced persons were children. The displacement is largely due to violence and threat of violence, landmines, recruitment of child soldiers and lack of access to basic services.
At least 343 children have been recruited into armed factions during this time period, some of them as young as nine or ten. Some groups estimate that as many as 14,000 could have been recruited into Colombia's conflict.
In the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, children continue to suffer human rights violations committed against them by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Between July 2009 and February 2012, almost 600 cases of child recruitment were registered. Children have been used as cooks, porters, guards, combatants and human shields; girls may also be subjected to traumatizing sexual violence. Even some local self-defense militias formed to protect communities from attacks are reported to be using children.
During the time period covered by this report (released in May), 45 children were killed and 39 children were maimed by the LRA. To help children cope, most affected countries are providing survivors or rescued youth with psychosocial support.
On the home front, some estimate that as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to domestic violence. According to the UNICEF report, Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children, domestic violence knows no ethnicity, geography or status. The child victims of such attacks may develop behavioural and psychological problems, depression and suicidal thoughts. They are also at a greater risk of substance abuse, early pregnancy and criminal actions.
Protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse should be a priority of all parties in a conflict—all family members in a home. All children deserve the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today is an occasion to acknowledge the pain, but also resilience, that violence-affected children experience, work towards solutions for their protection and hold perpetrators accountable.