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Children in times of disasters and conflicts

As we commemorate World Day against Child Labour, mankind is faced with a very simple yet recurring question: Have we succeeded in securing the childhood of some of the most vulnerable children across the world? Not yet.

In 2015, when the images of a three year old Aylan Kurdi’s corpse washed ashore first came to light, it shamed humanity’s collective conscience. It brought to fore our inability to end an already protracted armed struggle that was now taking its toll on children. The horrors of civil war revisited us yet again last year in the form of pictures of a dazed Omran Daqneesh sitting at the back of an ambulance trying to make sense of what had happened to him. The theme of this year’s World Day against Child Labour does well to reflect on these recurring humanitarian tragedies. The objective of the theme “In Conflicts and Disasters: Protect Children from Child Labour” is to shed light on the challenges that children often confront in the regions witnessing conflicts and disasters.

Today, an estimated 168 million children are being subjected to child labour around the world. A large section of these children call home regions that are either playgrounds of some armed conflict or are prone to nature’s fury. Unlike poverty-induced child labour, conflicts and disasters target children from all strata of society more or less equally. In their wake, both these calamities claim livelihood and ravage local economy. As traditional sources of income dry up, children are left with no other choice but to give up education and work to sustain themselves and their families.

Many of the affected children find themselves trapped in situations where they are separated from their families. Nothing can be probably worse for any child. The chances of falling prey to sexual predators or traffickers gets unusually high for children. Moreover, there is also a possibility of these children being lured or forced into joining armed militias in varied capacities, none of which can be deemed as safe for any child. Besides the chances being caught in cross fire, they also become prone to alcohol and drug abuse, inhumane punishments etc. All of this becomes part of a larger and inexplicable vicious cycle that takes a heavy toll on the physical, mental and social well being of the affected children.

Conflicts and disasters inflict irreparable damage to education and health care infrastructure. They destroy or at least damage schools, colleges and hospitals to a point where they either stop functioning normally or cease to operate altogether. While it is impossible to avert natural disasters, it is still possible to secure and safeguard schools and hospitals from armed attacks. A school is not just a place where education is imparted but, in essence, a sanctuary where the young can avail knowledge and lessons of life in an environment that is necessarily free from fear and violence. A similar proposition holds good for hospitals as well. Although there are international laws that prohibit attacking schools and hospitals, however they are hardly adhered to in case of hostilities.

Children are the future of human race. They deserve to be protected irrespective of the costs and difficulties involved. In order to do so, immediate actions aimed at securing children in the aftermath of a disaster or onset of hostilities must be taken. Humanitarian response must incorporate measures to curb child labour. In case of armed conflicts, dialogue must be held with concerned parties to end the recruitment of child soldiers on moral and ethical grounds. Host countries should abide by their international commitments and protect refugee and displaced children from child trafficking and child labour. Efforts should also be undertaken to reunite separated children with their families. Long term objectives should include provisions for skill development and appropriate jobs for adults and young of working age. It is time we do the needful to avoid the redux of tragedies that have already made us hang our heads in shame.

We, at Fiinovation, believe that every child deserves the right to be nurtured and protected. It is our resolve to do everything we can to reach out to the some of the most vulnerable children and make a difference for their betterment.

Varun Sharma
Senior Associate
Fiinovation

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