Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Universal Children's Day: put a stop to crimes against children in war

17-11-2009 News Release 09/222

Geneva (ICRC) – Ahead of Universal Children's Day on 20 November, and 20 years after the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is urging conflict parties to fully respect existing international humanitarian and human rights law in order to enhance protection for the estimated one billion children affected by armed conflict worldwide.

" The effect of war on children is devastating. Girls and boys, and even babies, are killed, maimed for life, imprisoned or raped. Exploitation and abuse remain a sad reality for millions of children who suffer the consequences of armed conflict, " said Kristin Barstad, the ICRC's adviser on children and war. " There is no valid excuse or justification for this. Universal Children's Day is an appropriate time to reiterate that children have a right to be protected and are entitled to education, food, water and health care, even in times of war. Those who violate the rights of children must be held accountable. "

Children can also find themselves taking part in armed conflict as child soldiers. Their numbers are estimated to be in the tens of thousands around the world. Some join armed groups voluntarily, some are forcibly recruited or abducted. In Nepal, Akaash remembers joining an armed group at age 10, " because they offered me money, a weapon and an opportunity to prove that I was something. " Children can be extremely precious to armed groups: they seem more obedient and easier to manipulate than adults, and are often less aware of danger to themselves. In some cases, children are forced to commit atrocities against their own family or community, to ensure blind obedience and cut them from their roots. But the fact that they may become perpetrators of crimes should not cause anyone to forget that they are, first and foremost, victims.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is just one of the war-ravaged countries where countless children have been victims of sexual violence. Marie was kidnapped by an armed group when she was 10 years old, and exploited a s a sex slave. Today she is 22 and has three children of her own. Although her community rejected her following her ordeal, she has been able to start a new life thanks to psychological support offered by the ICRC. According to the ICRC counsellor, " Marie is unbelievably resilient. She has turned the page. She will never forget the abuse she suffered but she has accepted it. "

" Under international humanitarian and human rights law children are protected against any form of abuse, such as murder, torture, other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, unlawful recruitment, hostage-taking and forced displacement, " explained Ms Barstad. " Twenty years ago, on 20 November 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed. Unfortunately the Convention and all the other relevant treaties such as the Geneva Conventions have made little difference for many children in war zones. It is time for conflict parties to start living up to their obligations. "

The ICRC is addressing the specific needs of children in war-torn countries by providing food, water and shelter, by supporting hospitals and basic health-care services, including vaccination campaigns, by paying special attention to children in places of detention, and by reuniting families. In 2008 the ICRC reunited more than 800 children separated from their families by conflict, including 112 demobilized child soldiers, with their parents or other family members, and visited 1,500 children individually in places of detention.

  For further information, please contact:
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17
  or visit our special web page on children and war


Universal Children's Day is observed every year on 20 November – the date on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989. It was established across the world in 1954 at the recommendation of the General Assembly, which urged that it be kept as a day of understanding between children and of activity promoting the welfare of the world's children.