The United Nations Children’s Fund calls 2014 a devastating year for children, reporting that as many as 15 million young people are caught in conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Ukraine.
Among the grim statistics in a newly released UNICEF report: There are more than 1.7 million child refugees from the conflict in Syria, and 105 children have been killed in the more than 35 attacks on schools in that country. In the Central African Republic, as many as 10,000 children are believed to have been recruited by armed groups in the past year, and more than 430 have been killed or maimed.
“Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds,” says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “They have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves.”
South Sudan, a new nation that is in the midst of a nearly yearlong conflict, has seen almost 750,000 children displaced and several hundred-thousand more forced to flee across borders. Amid fears of famine in South Sudan, an estimated 235,000 children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas this summer in Gaza left about 54,000 Palestinian children homeless and 538 dead.
Aid groups have been stretched thin by the sheer number of conflicts and the long-simmering ones that have faded from the headlines. UNICEF says the Ebola outbreak in West Africa presents yet another threat. Thousands of children have been orphaned and, according to UNICEF, some 5 million are out of school in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
UNICEF says it is responding where it can, trying to get children back to school in places such as the Central African Republic and working in Ebola-hit countries to try to prevent the spread of the disease.
As Lake puts it, “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”