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NEW REPORT: Number of Children Living in Deadliest War Zones Jumps Nearly 10% in One Year

Ali,* 12, with his 49-year-old father, Ramadan,* in North West Syria, where Ali* lost his leg due to shelling in his local marketplace. *Name changed. Credit: Hurras Network / Save the Children.

More than half of all children living in conflict areas in 2021—an estimated 230 million—lived in the deadliest war zones,[i] a nine percent increase from the previous year, reveals new analysis from Save the Children released during the Africa Conference on Children and Armed Conflicts.

While the recorded number of incidents of killing and maiming in conflict has dropped by about a third since 2018, more than 8,000 children—an average of 22 a day—still died or were maimed in 2021. These numbers are tragically expected to rise in 2022 because of the war in Ukraine.

According to Save the Children’s analysis, Yemen topped the list of 10 worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child in 2021. This is based on the number of grave violations recorded, the intensity of the conflict, and the share and number of children growing up with conflict-related violence.

Despite an increase in the number of children living in the most lethal war zones, which saw more than 1,000 battle-related deaths in a year, the overall number of grave violations against children has dropped since 2020, likely due to under-reporting resulting from access restrictions.

Grave violations against children—which include recruitment, abduction, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian access, attacks on schools and hospitals, and killing and maiming—can have a profound impact on their lives ranging from physical to psychological trauma, debilitating or life-altering injuries, and death.

Zaid,* 9, from Yemen lost his leg in a shelling incident when he was playing outside with friends.

“It’s difficult to have no leg. I just stay inside and play with my toys,” said Zaid. “Before I got injured, I used to play football. I used to run and play with my friends, but then the shell hit me.”

Stop the War on Children: The Forgotten Ones also includes an analysis of how media coverage in the 10 worst conflict-affected countries has fared since the war in Ukraine escalated earlier this year.

Media monitoring platform Meltwater found that between January 1 and September 30, 2022, Ukraine received five times more media coverage than all 10 of the worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child combined. During that period, Yemen—the worst country in which to be a child in conflict—had only 2.3% of media coverage compared to Ukraine.

While multiple factors can influence how donors distribute money, funding of Humanitarian Response Plans (HRP) for 2021’s worst conflict-affected countries to be a child were, on average, only 43% funded as of November 4, 2022—leaving millions of children without access to lifesaving essentials like health care and food, as well as education and protection services.

As of November 4, Syria’s HRP remained only 27.5% funded, while Myanmar’s was only 22.5% funded. Ukraine’s updated appeal, on the other hand, was 68.1% funded.

Janti Soeripto, CEO of Save the Children, said:

“Children don’t cause or start wars, yet there’s no denying they’re the biggest and most vulnerable victims in any conflict. While reported grave violations were down slightly last year, an average of 22 children a day were still maimed or—worst—robbed of their lives. This is only expected to get worse as conflicts in Ukraine and other countries—like Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo—rage on.

“The attention on the war in Ukraine has reminded many of us of the brutality of conflict and its horrific impacts on children, but it’s also a lesson in what’s possible when there’s enough collective political and financial will to ensure children get the lifesaving and life-changing help they need.

“The world must continue protecting children from Ukraine, while doing far more to ensure that children in other conflict-affected countries are looked after.”

The report also reveals that:

  • About 449 million children worldwide—or one in six—were living in a conflict zone in 2021, a slight drop from the previous year (450 million).

  • Africa had the highest overall number of children impacted by conflict (180 million), followed by Asia (152 million), and the Americas (64 million).

  • The Middle East was home to the highest proportion of children living in conflict areas, (one in every three children).

  • While Europe had the lowest overall number and proportion of children impacted by conflict, those numbers are expected to skyrocket in 2022 due to the escalation of violence in Ukraine.

  • Verified incidents of the denial of humanitarian access jumped significantly in the last three years, mostly driven by incidents in Yemen and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

Among its recommendations, Save the Children is calling on world leaders, donors, members of the UN, and NGOs to protect children by holding perpetrators of these violations to account, ensuring all relevant policies and legal frameworks are ratified and implemented, and prioritizing funding for the necessary services to support children impacted by conflict to ensure their recovery and resilience.

[i] Conflict zones with more than 1,000 battle-related deaths.

  • Unlike UN reports, which cover a limited number of conflicts, our report provides an estimate for the number of children at risk in all armed conflicts around the world.

  • A low-intensity conflict is defined as up to 25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year, a medium-intensity conflict as 25–999 battle deaths in a year, and a high-intensity conflict as 1,000 or more battle-related deaths in a year.

  • Save the Children drew on the following sources for its analysis:

  • Updated data on the number of children living in conflict zones conducted by the Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo based on Uppsala Conflict Data Program’s Georeferenced Event Dataset (UCDP GED) cross-referenced with population data from Gridded Population of the World (GPW) and from the UN (2021).

  • Analysis by Save the Children of the 2021 United Nations Annual Reports of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC). The analysis also draws on previous Save the Children mapping of the number of grave violations in the reports on children and armed conflict from 2005–2020.

  • List of 10 worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child are based on data from UN CAAC and PRIO, outlined above.

Meltwater’s analysis of media coverage of Ukraine and the 10 worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child is based on online articles in the 13 most common languages in the world: English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Simplified Chinese, German, Portuguese, Bengali, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Urdu.

Mapping of humanitarian financing for the 10 worst conflict-affected countries in which to be a child, plus Ukraine, from UN OCHA, accessed on November 4, 2022:

*Name changed to protect identity


(c) 2022, Save the Children



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