Promotion and protection of the rights of children: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2011
United Nations, General Assembly, 66th session, Third Committee, item 65 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 17 October 2011.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr or Madame Chair,
Armed conflict and other situations of violence are a leading cause of disability in children, thousands of whom, from newborn babies to teenagers, are maimed every year. In Afghanistan alone, it is estimated that a million children have been disabled as a result of the conflict. They are direct victims of war and will have to live with their disability for the rest of their lives. This is largely a consequence of disregard for international humanitarian law, including the requirement to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
The ICRC would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the direct and indirect consequences of conflict on children's physical well-being.
Landmines, cluster bombs, unexploded ordnance, and improvised explosive devices – all extremely dangerous weapons – continue to affect people long after war has ended. Today, children in some 80 countries are at constant threat from these weapons. Thousands of children die during conflict, but many more are injured or permanently disabled – often long after the fighting has ended.
The indirect effects of armed conflict have a serious impact on children: when health-care systems collapse or when it becomes exceedingly difficult to gain access to them, children's health suffers. The closure of urban and rural health-care clinics, owing to violence, leads to increased risks of medical complications for untreated patients. Various simple diseases that have been left untreated are now causing permanent disabilities. Unvaccinated children are sustaining permanent disabilities that could easily have been prevented. The number of children born with disabilities is higher in areas affected by armed conflict because in such places, women have less access to proper health care and decent living conditions during pregnancy and delivery.
The ICRC would like to emphasize one particular factor that increases the risk of children becoming disabled during armed conflict as well as during other situations of violence: the inaccessibility of basic services, especially health-care and rehabilitation services. The ICRC is deeply concerned about limited access to these services. During situations of armed conflict, violent attacks on health-care personnel and facilities, and medical vehicles, in total disregard of international humanitarian law, severely limit access to health-care services for civilians who are injured or ill. Violence that prevents access to or delivery of health care is one of the most serious humanitarian issues of the day, but one that is frequently overlooked. Many people die or are permanently disabled simply because they could not be treated in time.
To minimize instances of children becoming disabled, particularly in times of armed conflict, we must increase respect for existing rules. To address the humanitarian consequences of armed conflict, the ICRC provides assistance directly or through existing structures. It also endeavours to persuade all parties to respect international humanitarian law, including respect for medical services.
It may be helpful here to give a few examples of the ICRC's activities: it provides support for the delivery of emergency care for war-wounded persons, often through existing hospitals and other health facilities; it also provides such support in many mine and weapon-contaminated areas. Through its Physical Rehabilitation Programme and its Special Fund for the Disabled, the ICRC has been ensuring access to physical rehabilitation services for more than 30 years. In 2010, some 56,000 of the more than 200,000 beneficiaries of ICRC's rehabilitation programmes were children. This represents only a small fraction of those across the world who need such help. Measures to restore mobility are an essential part of fully integrating disabled people into society, and necessary if they are to exercise the basic rights enjoyed by other members of society.
Mr or Madame Chair,
During an armed conflict, every child is vulnerable. Those with disabilities, whether they stay in war zones or flee, are at particular risk. Their problems are exacerbated in developing countries where children are already at a higher risk of disability owing to poverty and limited health care.
Armed conflict also has a major impact on the accessibility of other basic services for civilians. For children living with disabilities, attending school in situations of conflict is often impossible.
Consider the case of an amputee who is five years old: this child will need lifelong access to rehabilitation services and about 25 prostheses during his or her life, plus repairs and adjustments in between. In situations of conflict, this will be virtually impossible because access to physical rehabilitation services is rarely a matter of priority. This, in turn, will reduce the child's mobility and therefore the possibility of going to school. The chances of their ever playing an active role in their societies will be greatly diminished for children who are deprived of an education.
There are one billion persons with disabilities throughout the world: many of them are children. This number would be much lower had international humanitarian law been respected by parties to armed conflict and if human rights had been respected in other situations of violence (such as civil unrest, riots and demonstrations). When the rules are not universally respected, many children suffer disabilities that could have been avoided. Such disabilities resulted from lack of access to health care and rehabilitation and because children with pre-existing disabilities were unable to get the treatment they needed.
In conclusion, the ICRC calls on all parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians have access to health care and to rehabilitation services. This will significantly reduce the adverse consequences for children of armed conflict and other situations of violence – including avoidable, lifelong disabilities.