THE BLOG

The Four Global Conflicts That Are Affecting Millions of Children

03/06/2014 05:23 EST | Updated 05/14/2014 05:59 EDT

While the UN Security Council holds urgent talks and Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon urges dialogue to resolve the Ukraine crisis, other areas of crisis fall to the back pages of newspapers. Yet, four level-three emergencies -- three conflicts and one natural disaster -- are currently affecting children: the Central African Republic, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Syria.

The three conflicts are claiming lives and childhoods. Children in armed conflict are protected by international law, and we must do whatever it takes to save lives. In violent conflicts, it is children who suffer most, and no child should ever face what these children are facing.

UNICEF released "Humanitarian Action for Children 2014" on February 21, 2014, to raise awareness about these types of crises that profoundly impact children but do not make the headlines, and the unprecedented need to respond. The report shows that in 2014, approximately 60-million children -- almost twice the number of people in Canada -- in 50 countries around the world will need humanitarian aid.

As the Syrian conflict approaches the end of its third year, 5.4-million children have been exposed to the horrors of war. Millions remain trapped in the violence inside Syria's borders, while others who fled to neighbouring countries face new challenges there as refugees. The children of Syria have fallen behind in their education and are scarred by displacement, loss, and violence. They are at risk of becoming a lost generation, with cultural, economic, and educational implications for the country itself and the surrounding region.

Those elements involved in the fighting must be brought to fully respect humanitarian law, end the recruitment of children, and commit to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. There must also be an end to blocking of humanitarian assistance; humanitarian organizations must be allowed to reach all those who are suffering, and attacks on humanitarian workers and facilities must end.

And we must do more at home: in the face of the rapidly unfolding Syrian refugee crisis, will Canada accept more refugees than the paltry number of 1,300 announced, particularly as 17,000 Syrian immigrants have been admitted to Sweden as permanent residents since 2012?

Then there are the acute crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic: in South Sudan, escalating armed, political conflict has displaced over 500,000 children and their families, with many sheltering in UN peacekeeping compounds within the country. An estimated 3.2-million people urgently need humanitarian assistance.

In South Sudan, 1.3-million children are threatened by malnutrition, a number that will likely rise as the effects of the missed planting season set in. What concrete support is the Government of Canada considering to avoid an even greater tragedy when the rainy season comes? All parties to the current conflict must immediately accept and uphold international norms, and the government must acknowledge its responsibility to break the culture of impunity.

And finally, to the Central African Republic or CAR, where 2.3-million children are at risk of becoming victims of horrendous attacks, including sexual violence or decapitation; and more than 6,000 are being forced to serve as child soldiers. We are all horrified by the cruelty and impunity with which children are being killed and mutilated in CAR. Children and families who fled their homes are living in desperate situations, with some seeking shelter on airport tarmacs. The mass displacement over the past year, the loss of agricultural lands, and the lack of access to basic services mean that an estimated 100,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2014.

What complicates this dire situation even further is that the rainy season in CAR has begun early this year, and now there is flooding in refugee camps and the risk of malaria has increased.

In the immediate term, will Canada provide more resources, will it play a role in inter-religious dialogue, or play a facilitating role in the European Union deployment to CAR? And if a call comes for broad-based participation in a United Nations peacekeeping operation, what criteria will the Government apply to formulate its response?

While fighting continues in Syria, South Sudan and CAR, Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines late last year. Ninety percent of schools were damaged, leaving one-million children without a place to learn. Children now need to leave makeshift structures and return to their schools, and they need psycho-social supports. But thankfully, efforts are generally well-funded.

Canadians should ask what the Government of Canada will contribute to the re-building of schools and building of disaster-resilient communities, as effects of climate change are making the impact of severe storms worse.

In closing, let parliamentarians stand with the children in these emergencies, and put vulnerable children at the heart of our work.

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