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.____________________