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PROTECTION OF CHILDREN IN AREAS OF ARMED CONFLICT

Hrishikesh Reddy Kothwaland, Shivang Mishra, 1st year, National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam

 

INTRODUCTION

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

These words were written by Warsan Shire in her well-known poem Conversations about Home (at a deportation center). This poem has been instrumental in capturing the essence of refugees in war zones. Among the worst victims of these conflicts are children who are often killed, maimed, orphaned, enslaved, or taken as child soldiers. In 2015, a photo of a 3-year-old Alan Kurdi who has washed ashore the Mediterranean Sea, along with his parents took the world by storm and brought renewed attention to the plight of children in conflict zones. Alan Kurdi and his family were trying to escape to Europe from war-torn Syria in a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. 357 million young girls and boys, that is, 1 in every 6 children in the world live in areas of war or armed conflict as reported by the United Nations. Article 14 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949 provides for the set-up of hospital and safety zones for children under 15 but in reality children in these conflict zones often have only 2 options, either stay in the conflict zone, get exploited and risk the chance of death or try to escape via dangerous means where the chances of death are equally high if not more. These choices are not presented to the children, but they are forced into circumstances where these are their only options.


THE PLIGHT OF CHILDREN IN AN ARMED CONFLICT

The people who live in the presence of an armed conflict inadvertently become the worst victims of the ravages of war. Often, they have to go through sexual exploitation, mutilation, genocide, abduction, amputation, etc. The abundance of inexpensive arms has also contributed to the use of children as soldiers, as well as to high levels of violence once conflicts have ended. The Paris Principles on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict 2007 defines a child soldier as “any individual below the age of 18 years who is associated with an armed force or group or is used by an armed force in any capacity such as fighters, cooks, porters, spies, sexual purposes, etc”. Apart from the usual physical injuries that a child soldier sustains, their mental well-being is also adversely affected. They suffer from negative personality development, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and anxiety. Physical problems such as maiming, fistula, afflictions caused due to poor nutrition, etc also result in many psychological problems. The exploitation of female child soldiers is on two levels, where they are used as dispensable pawns in the battlefield during the day and as objects of sexual pleasure during the night. The abuse of children in an armed conflict is not limited to their use as child soldiers. UNICEF reports that 90% of the deaths due to armed conflicts since the 1990s have been civilians, out of which a staggering 80% are women and children. With the onset of an armed conflict, their schooling is stopped abruptly, they are orphaned and left without access to a proper shelter, food, and potable water. The children of the already marginalized groups face the worst effects of these conflicts. The consequences of these adversities haunt the children of their lives. Even after the conflict ends, the return to normalcy is next to impossible for the youngest victims of these bloody conflicts.