Children in Conflict

Children in Conflict

According to UNHCR’s report Global Trends 2018, the number of forced displacement due to conflict and persecution has hit record high. In 2018, forced displacement reached 70.8 million, or one person in 108. The rate of people being displaced is stunning, an increase of 2.3 million people over the previous year. Children below 18 years of age constituted about half of the forcibly displaced, of which at least 138,000 are unaccompanied and separated children.

UNHCR concludes three reasons for the increase of forced displacement over the past five years:

  • Prolonged conflicts that cause large refugee outflows
  • Dramatic new or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity are occurring more frequently
  • Limited options available for refugees and internally displaced people

Displaced population can be classified as below:

  • Internally Displaced Person (IDP): One forced to leave its home due to wars and persecution within one’s own country
  • Refugee: One displaced across borders due to wars and persecution to another country
  • Asylum-seeker: One who, for fear of persecution in its own country, has sought refuge in another country, in hope to be granted refugee status


As the number of global crises grows continually, 420 million children in the world are now living in conflict-affected countries and areas. They are confronted with physical harm, diseases, trauma and exploitation.

A fundamental problem is that the laws of conflict zones do not provide enough protection for children. There are loopholes in implementing the existing law, and the lack of local awareness on the issue remains a huge setback.

Physically weak, children are often maimed, wounded or killed in conflict, and were prone to the long-term psychological trauma brought by the loss of their loved ones.

When running for their lives, many children could not keep up and became separated from their family members. Some children even witness brutal attacks of family and friends, became orphaned which further exposed them to many risks including abduction, violence, sexual abuse and recruitment into armed forces.

Sources: Save the children (2019)


Child Soldier

Tens of thousands of children are involved in armed conflicts. They are targeted because they are easy to convince, control and are less likely to rebel. Some become soldiers by military recruitment, coercion or abduction, or simply to escape from hunger or poverty. Both boys and girls participate in armed conflicts to perform different duties, including combatants, porters, spies and human mine detectors. Girls are often forced to be sex slaves.

Being child soldiers, not only are their health and lives at risk, their childhood is also sacrificed. They may also become desensitised to violence during their formative years. Their unpleasant experience may lead to psychological trauma. The rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide among these children are relatively high.

Source: Children and Armed Conflict (2017)

Physical and Mental Health

Wars and conflicts take away children’s right to all kinds of protection: basic needs, essential services like healthcare and education, family protection and psychological support. Children are often malnourished and at risk of death from various preventable diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and malaria.

The mental health of children in conflict are severely affected due to the continued stress faced, including injury, witnessing terrifying situations and losing their loved ones. They have higher chances to develop depression and other emotional, mental and behavioural disorders. It is more likely for children who are exposed to adverse situations to suffer from heart, lung and liver diseases in adulthood.

They all have profound and lasting effects on their socio-emotional well-being and brain development, affecting their abilities to concentrate, learn, memorise things, and control emotions.

Listen to the stories of these children:

Denial of Education

27 million children living in conflict areas are out of school. Low educational attainment is prevalent among children in conflicts, especially among girls.

Schools are often the target of attack which puts students and teachers at risk of death or injury, and causes students to attend school less often or drop out of schools. Even when the conflict ends, children usually cannot immediately return to school.

Denial of education has one of the greatest impacts on children, in other words, they are deprived of the knowledge and skills they need for survival, make a living, and rebuild their countries and economies when war ends.

Sexual Violence and Early Marriage

Majority of the displaced population are women and children, as men are either killed in conflicts or stay back home to fight. Whether they are on the run, or resettling in overcrowded reception sites and refugee camps, women and children are at high risk of being sexually abused. Worse still, since being sexual harassed and abused is shameful to the girls in some of their culture, many sexual violence cases are kept unreported by the girls and their families. UNHCR has also received reports and testimonies indicating that some children were “engaging in survival sex in order to pay smugglers to continue their journey”.

There is a phenomenon in the refugee communities that in order to “protect” girls from sexual abuse, families forced their girls to marry at a young age. However, sexual abuse and violence may also happen inside the family.

Child Labour

Conflicts drive children to become the joint or only breadwinner in the family. In Lebanon, some Syrian refugee children are only six years old when they begin to work. They work six to seven days a week as casual workers for over 8 hours a day, earning daily income from US$4 to US$7.

Types of work done by children:

  • Farm worker
  • Street work (selling drinks and food, shining shoes, working in parking lots and begging)
  • Working in shops and restaurants
  • Working in construction sites

Because of the poor working condition and lack of protection, these working children are susceptible to health problems and injuries. The most frustrating fact is that poor health and lack of education is making them more difficult to escape from the vicious cycle of poverty.

Source: UNHCR, UNICEF, International Labour Organization (ILO)


Wars and conflicts happen every day across the world: in the Middle East, Africa and many other countries. The causes are complicated, intertwined with a range of factors – economic, political and social. They can be roughly grouped under 3 Rs: resources, race and religion, but none of them stands alone to be a sole cause of conflict.


Natural resources, like oil, minerals, forest, water and fertile land is an important source of income and power, and even determinants for survival and livelihood. When resources are poorly managed, distributed or controlled in an unfair or unequal manner, which happen in most developing countries, it becomes a major driver of conflict or instability.

In the Middle East, constant cross-border conflicts are driven by scarce resources like fertile land and water, and high value resource like oil. The effects of environmental degradation caused by climate change have further multiplied the threat on the poorly managed resource.


Race-based diversity is manifested in divided religion, language and culture. The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 between Hutu and Tutsi had an estimated 800,000 people killed in 100 days. Sometimes race and religion factors are tied together, like the civil war in Sri Lanka in 1983 between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority.


Religion is both a powerful drive of conflict and a resource to peace-making. While religion may not be the core reason for the conflict in every instance, it has some influence. Religious conviction certainly was one of the motivations for the attacks on 11 September 2001 and other violent actions by Islamic extremists around the world.


These three countries have produced nearly half (45%) of the world’s refugees:

Whether willing or not, many neighbouring countries have been experiencing a mass influx of refugees. The top three recipient countries are:

These three countries have the highest numbers of internally displaced persons:

Source: UNHCR, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

How We Help

Children are often the most vulnerable amidst armed conflict and violence. Our work among these children aims to eliminate barriers to their survival and assist them to recover from a tough start in life.

Short term

1. Emergency Assistance

World Vision supports refugees on the move by giving them the much-needed aid, such as food and cash assistance, health and nutrition assistance, water and sanitation support, household and hygienic supplies, education and child protection programmes.

For instance, the prolonged civil conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Rakhine State, Myanmar have displaced millions of people internally and in other neighbouring countries. World Vision has started working among the refugees since 2011 to offer various kinds of support, especially for children.

2. Child Friendly Spaces

At refugee camps and host communities, World Vision runs Child Friendly Spaces which provide refugee children with psycho-social support and counselling. That would help them cope with their memories of distressing experiences which would otherwise have long-term repercussions and affect their whole lives.

3. Education

Education and recreation are essential to children. Children staying in an alien country may not integrate into the host community’s education system and society. Therefore, World Vision is providing more learning opportunities for children to acquire knowledge and life skills.

Long term

World Vision provides health and nutrition training to the communities and aims to ensure mother and children are protected. We also offer livelihood opportunities to help refugees and internally displaced persons become self-resilient.

World Vision pursues peace-building among children and adolescents. We believe societies should – and can – be made safer for children. World Vision is part of a global partnership that brings together stakeholders from across the world to end all forms of violence against children, turning the belief that no violence against children is justifiable and all violence is preventable into a compelling agenda for action.

At community level, World Vision engages the local community on good conflict mitigation measures, as a prevention against resorting to violence as the mean to resolve disagreement.