With political, military, economic and religious strife proliferating globally, children are increasingly turning up in the headlines.
And while kids have always suffered during the turmoils of war and crisis, there’s a sense internationally that the burden of instability is being increasingly borne by children.
“More than ever, children are in the firing line,” Jacqueline Bhabha, a professor of human rights at Harvard University told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “At the moment with Syria, Gaza, the Nigerian girls, the U.S. border, it really highlights the extent to which children are at risk in situations of conflict or situations of emergency.”
From the start of the Syrian civil war, children were being killed in unusual numbers in order to send a message to communities.
“From the early days, children were specific targets,” said Bhaba. That tactic, carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was intended to brutalize areas loyal to opponents of the government.
Even in conflicts where children may not be specifically targeted, there can be nowhere for children to hide.
“Wars are no longer limited to the battlefield. Civilians are absolutely targeted and there aren’t safe spaces where they used to be,” she said. “In Gaza, homes are targeted, rooftops are targeted, so the places where children just stay, whether it’s at home or playing outside their house, have become extremely dangerous.”
“The normal rules of war, the rules of civility have completely broken down,” Bhaba continued. “The U.N. reported last week that one child is being killed every hour in Gaza.”
In other places where wars are being fought, such as South Sudan, children make up a majority of the population. Child starvation, casualties and killings are reflected in high numbers.
However, it is not just in wars where children bear the brunt of destitution and violence. Take, for example, the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram in Nigeria, an area with a legacy of child trafficking.
Allowing that to happen with little consequence seems to erode the time-honored sense that children are off limits in other contexts of violence.
While much of the focus may be on the immediate plight of children, Bhaba argues that it is crucial to also take the larger context into perspective.
For the children at the U.S. border fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America — where children as young as 8 are murdered by gang members — Bhaba knows addressing the larger issues is the only way to keep children safe.
“The lack of jobs, the lack opportunity, the proliferation of gangs, the massive consequences of U.S. drug consumption on Central America. These are the issues,” she said.
“We haven’t really thought about child protection as being a central concern of governments,” Bhaba said. “It’s not been something where we think structurally about the importance of education, the importance of safety, the importance of skill training and jobs.”
Fixing these issues globally, Bhaba believes, is the key to keeping children safe.
- Jacqueline Bhabha, human rights professor at Harvard University and board member at the World Peace Foundation.