UNICEF -- the United Nations Children’s Fund -- says 2014 has been the worst year ever for children in areas affected by conflict. UNICEF estimates 230 million children live in countries and areas where armed groups are fighting. It says 15 million children live in six of the most violent places -- the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Ukraine.
UNICEF says 2014 was a year of fear and despair for millions of children. Sarah Crowe is UNICEF’s crisis communications chief. She says children have been forced to become soldiers, sold as sex slaves and have been targeted by armed groups.
“If this was a report card for the world, we would have failed outright. It has been an appalling, devastating year for children and children have been put in harm’s way like never before. Never in recent history have we seen so many children directly impacted by conflict, by war, by violence -- 15 million directly and 230 million indirectly, meaning in chronic, low-conflict war zones. The numbers are truly numbing.”
UNICEF says children have been killed while studying in their classroom and while sleeping in their beds. They have been kidnapped and tortured, and their parents have been killed.
The agency says the beginning of civil wars in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan one year ago has placed millions of children in danger. It says fighting in these countries has forced hundreds of thousands of children to flee their homes. UNICEF says many children have been killed or severely injured and tens of thousands are suffering from severe malnutrition and disease.
UNICEF also reports wars in the Middle East are causing the deaths of many women and children. It says 538 children were killed in last summer’s 50-day-long conflict in Gaza and 54,000 are homeless.
It reports women and girls in Iraq are sexually attacked, sold as slaves and forced into prostitution. It says many of the more than 7.3 million children affected by conflict in Syria have been killed or badly injured. And it says children in both countries have increasingly become victims of extreme violence.
UNICEF says more than 100,000 children have been displaced since the Russian-supported rebellion in Ukraine began in April. And it says the number of children killed and wounded there is increasing.
Ms. Crowe tells VOA that the health of many children is also being threatened. She says the spread of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has caused the deaths of the parents of thousands of children. And about five million children are not in school.
“Never before have we seen a public health emergency that has affected children -- their health, their livelihoods, their parents’ livelihoods, their education, every aspect of their world -- meaning Ebola.”
Although there are many problems, UNICEF says there is also hope for the millions of children affected by conflict. It notes that the United Nations and private agencies have been giving aid. Lives have been saved and children have been educated, and they have been given emotional support to help them deal with what they experienced.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
Correspondent Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter edited the story.
Words from This Story
despair – n. the feeling of no longer having any hope
report card – n. an evaluation of performance
outright – adv. in a full and complete way
chronic – adj. happening or existing frequently or most of the time
numbing – v. to make (someone) unable to think, feel, or react normally
malnutrition – n. the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food or not eating enough healthy food; poor nutrition
prostitution – n. the work of a prostitute; the act of having sex in exchange for money
livelihood – n. a way of earning money in order to live
aspect – n. a part of something
Are children in your country affected by conflict? Have you been affected by conflict? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.