- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Armed conflicts are among the biggest threats facing the world’s children, with youngsters increasingly being singled out as targets for violence, according to a new report from UNICEF.

The report, titled “Childhood Under Threat,” found that nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in war since 1990 have been children.

“There is so much more conflict in the world today than there was 10 years ago,” said Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

“As the report points out, in most civil conflict today 90 percent of the victims are civilians and the vast majority of those civilians are women and children. It’s a tremendous regression in terms of innocent women and children being the victims of civil conflict.”

This growing violence, combined with poverty and the AIDS pandemic, threatens the well-being of more than half of the world’s children. According to the report, more than 1 billion children are suffering extreme deprivations from war, poverty and AIDS.

“The emphasis on poverty, HIV and conflict is to emphasize that more today than any other time the three of them conspire,” Mr. Lyons said. “Any one of them alone is a vicious attack on kids. The three of them together where they are occurring in places like Angola is just a staggering problem for kids.”

UNICEF commissioned the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics to help analyze the data used in the report.

In conflicts across the globe, children have become targets for violence and forced recruitment into combat, Mr. Lyons said.

Schools — once thought of as a haven for students — have quickly become an extension of the battlefield.

The deadly attack of a school in Beslan in September that killed more than 150 children is just the latest example of this growing trend, according to the report.

In Indonesia, as part of a conflict between government forces and rebel groups, 460 schools were burned to the ground in May 2003 alone.

“Nothing is sacred anymore when you can attack villages that are full of women and children as part of your strategy to win a particular conflict,” Mr. Lyons said.

Poverty also continues to be a major source of suffering for the world’s children. The report found that 640 million children lack adequate shelter and another 400 million do not have adequate access to safe water.

In many cases, poverty has been closely linked to damage wrought by the AIDS pandemic. An estimated 15 million children have been orphaned because of the AIDS virus. The deadly disease has also sickened and killed teachers, health workers and other adults children rely upon for care.

To begin addressing these challenges, the report outlines several first steps including encouraging governments to keep the needs of children foremost in their mind when it comes to devising policies and crafting national budgets.

“What we’re trying to say is that these conditions are not inevitable,” Mr. Lyons said. “They are outrageous and they are at a scale that most people would not imagine, but there are steps that can be taken country by country that really does allow the world to respond to these deprivations faced by so many kids.”

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