Child pulls an empty plastic container on a string.
A child plays with a homemade sled made from an empty container and a length of cable, in Roj Camp, northeast Syria, February 2020. Photo: ©UNICEF/UNI310464/Romenzi

Stop attacks on children

It is a sad reality that in situations where armed conflict breaks out, it is the most vulnerable members of societies – namely children, who are most affected by the consequences of war. The six most common violations are recruitment and use of children in war, killing, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.

On 19 August 1982, at its emergency special session on the question of Palestine, the General Assembly, “appalled at the great number of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese children victims of Israel’s acts of aggression”, decided to commemorate 4 June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

The purpose of the day is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse. This day affirms the UN's commitment to protect the rights of children. Its work is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.

Background

Following on the ground-breaking Graça Machel report, which drew global attention to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children, in 1997 The General Assembly adopted 51/77 Resolution on the Rights of the Child. It was a landmark development in efforts to improve the protection of children in conflict situations. This signalled the start of a new consensus among Member States, on the need for dedicated attention, advocacy and coordinated effort, by the international community, to address the vulnerabilities and violations faced by children in conflict-related situations.

Resolution 51/77 built on existing General Assembly efforts to protect the rights of children, including through the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol, and the annual Rights of the Child resolutions. And it established the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

In recent years, the number of violations perpetrated against children have, in many conflict zones, increased. More needs to be done to protect the 250 million children living in countries and areas affected by conflict. More must be done to protect children from targeting by violent extremists, to promote international humanitarian and human rights law, and to ensure accountability for violations of the rights of children.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides us with the universal masterplan to secure a better future for children. The new agenda includes for the first time a specific target (16.2) to end all forms of violence against children, and ending the abuse, neglect and exploitation of children is mainstreamed across several other violence-related targets.

Sketch illustrating the six grave violations.

In response to a rise in grave violations committed against children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict launched #ACTtoProtect, a global campaign to generate greater awareness and action to protect children affected by war. During three years the campaign will seek to prevent grave violations committed against children in times of conflict.

Girl facing a wall holds up a fake gun.

From Sierra Leone to Colombia, Somalia and Afghanistan, every year, conflict affects the lives of tens of thousands of boys and girls. They are forced to join army or armed movement, abducted, used and abused, fuelling wars that they have not created. They are Yenny, Kabba, they are Khaled and Mohamed. Here are some of their stories.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.