How can international humanitarian law help children affected by war?

Topics: Worldwide, International Humanitarian Law
February 13, 2013

How can international humanitarian law help children affected by war?

Armed conflict affects the lives of men and women in many countries, but in many instances, the ones who are most impacted by war, civil unrest and other forms of strife are children.

As part of the world's largest non-profit organization, the Canadian Red Cross plays an important role in helping those in need across the globe. When a conflict breaks out in an area, the Red Cross strives to respond to the plight of those affected with a variety of services.

The Canadian Red Cross is also committed to supporting international humanitarian law and upholding the rights of children in war zones. These rights, which were established through the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocols 1 and 2 and the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Children, are intended to provide children with protection. However, they are often put to the test during times of conflict.

How are children impacted by war?
Armed conflict can have serious impacts on young people. 

"It was an ordinary day and I was out looking after the sheep," said an eight-year-old boy who was living in a region affected by armed conflict. "I saw a funny looking object on the ground, so I picked it up. It exploded and now I am blind with only one arm. I have been in the hospital for over a year, and pretty soon I will be able to go home. But I will never be allowed to look after the sheep again."

Millions of children across the world endure changes to their quality of life as a result of war. Many are displaced from their homes, witness or experience acts of violence and may be recruited through threat and coercion to serve in government, opposition and paramilitary forces.

Children as soldiers
The United Nations defines a child soldier as any young person under the age of 18 who is involved in any regular or irregular armed forced or group in any capacity. This definition extends to young girls who are forced into marriage or intimate relationships and is not confined to children who bear arms against another group. 

While the use of child soldiers may seem rare to some observers, they have been used in countries around the world, including in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Children can be used by government, opposition and paramilitary forces in a number of ways that range from force to coercion to volunteer recruitment. Although each child's experience is unique, many who become soldiers share common feelings of grief, shame and sadness.

How you can help
The Canadian Red Cross is committed to helping children around the world. With assistance from generous Canadians like you, the Canadian Red Cross can continue to make a difference in their lives. 

To show your support today, please donate online or at your local Canadian Red Cross office.