More than half a million babies may have died as a result of conflict over the past five years, according to a new report by Save the Children. That’s an average of more than 100,000 deaths annually – or 300 babies every day.
At least 550,000 deaths of children under the age of one could be attributed to the effects of conflict in the 10 worst-affected conflict zones between 2013 and 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, the charity found.
Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia are the countries where children were hardest hit by conflict.
The death toll does not include children killed directly by fighting. Instead, it estimates the number of infants and young children who may have died from the knock-on effects of nearby conflict, such as starvation, outbreaks of disease, damage to hospitals, or delays to aid deliveries.
Child deaths rose to 870,000 when all children under the age of five were included. The estimates are likely conservative. By comparison, the charity estimates that almost 175,000 fighters or soldiers were killed in the conflicts over the same five-year period.
The horrific impact on children is partly the result of protracted modern conflicts, often fought among civilian populations. But there is also a crisis in accountability – with persistent, widespread and sometimes deliberate violations of children’s rights across the globe.
Save the Children is calling for the UK to urgently implement a new strategy for protecting civilians – with children front and centre – covering diplomacy, defence and aid.
Britain’s cross-government ‘Protection of Civilians Strategy’ was last updated in 2010 and has no specific provisions for children or other vulnerable groups.
Save the Children is calling for the UK to:
- Track civilian harm and comprehensively record civilian casualties in conflicts the UK is engaged in, as recommended by the Chilcot Inquiry;
- Acknowledge the harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, avoid its use and take measures to reduce their impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure;
- Consistently call out violations against children in conflict, including by allies;
- Raise the urgency of protecting civilians wherever Britain has a seat at the table – including at the UN Security Council, NATO and the G7.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, said: “The UK should be using its global influence to protect children living in war zones. From Yemen to Syria and South Sudan, children are bearing the horror of armed conflict.
“Some are treated as collateral damage in urban bombing. Others are deliberately targeted for killing, abduction and recruitment by armed groups. Millions go hungry because humanitarian aid is obstructed.
“Britain should send a clear message to the world: the war on children must end, and those who commit crimes against children will be held to account.”