International Law concerning Child Civilians in Armed Conflict

By Jenny Kuper | Go to book overview

1 Introduction

1.1 AIMS AND SCOPE

Lawyers and other professionals concerned with human rights, and particularly with children's rights, may be congratulating themselves on international legal developments primarily in the years since World War II. However, the millions of people worldwide who are suffering from abuses of those rights, many in countries which officially support the post-War international legislation, could be forgiven for wondering (if news of these developments has reached them) whether indeed there is any cause for celebration. Nowhere is the contrast between lofty ideals, as enshrined in various instruments of international law, and reality more stark than in relation to child civilians embroiled in situations of armed conflict.

The United Nations Children's Fund (hereafter UNICEF) has estimated that child victims of armed conflict '[d]uring the last decade... have included: 2 million killed; 4-5 million disabled; 12 million left homeless; more than 1 million orphaned or separated from their parents; some 10 million psychologically traumatized'.1 Although it is difficult to judge the accuracy of such statistics, it is beyond doubt that each year many thousands of children are killed or injured as a direct result of armed conflict.2

Moreover, the harm suffered by children as a result of armed conflict is not limited to death and injury. It can also include illness; long-term disability; deprivation due to family impoverishment; separation from families; missed schooling; displacement from home; torture; arrest and detention; sexual and physical abuse; abduction; recruitment into armed forces; and distortion of values by exposure to violence.3 Many of these are not the immediate effects of combat, but are delayed.

____________________
1
UNICEF, The State of the World's Children 1996 ( Oxford, 1995), 13. For earlier estimates, see UNICEF, Children and Development in the 1990s: A UNICEF Sourcebook ( New York, 1990), 193, and UNICEF, The State of the World's Children 1995 ( Oxford, 1994), 4.
2
As regards children killed in armed conflict, see E. M. Ressler, J. M. Tortorici, and A. Marcelino , Children in War: a Guide to the Provision of Services ( New York, 1993), 66. These writers point out that children's deaths in this context can be caused by intentional killing, when they are purposefully targeted; non-discriminatory killing, when they are among targeted victims, but not singled out; negligent killing, by neglecting to provide essential life- support services; consequential killing, when children die as a secondary consequence of the action taken; and inadvertent killing, or accidental deaths.
3
These are the factors identified by Ressler, Tortorici, and Marcelino, ibid. 37-47. For the perspectives of children interviewed regarding their own experiences of armed conflict see, for example, R. Rosenblatt, Children of War ( New York, 1983).

-1-

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