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UNICEF: 2014 'Devastating' for Millions of Children Across the Globe

As leaders ignore impact of global crisis, aid group reports that worsening conflicts worldwide have led to 'horror, fear and despair' for children

Syrian children in an Iraqi refugee camp in September 2013. (Photo: European Comission DG ECHO/flickr/cc)

Charging that the world has largely looked the other way, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday released a new report which concludes 2014 was one of the worst years on record for the overall welfare of children, with over 15 million young people directly harmed by the world's worst conflicts and hundreds of millions more indirectly harmed.

According to the UNICEF statement (pdf), worsening unrest throughout many parts of the world has exposed increasing numbers of children to extreme violence, with war, disease, and other crises leading many to become targets of groups in conflict with one another, often recruiting them as soldiers or selling them into slavery.

"This has been a devastating year for millions of children," said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake. "Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality."

An estimated 230 million children currently live in areas affected by armed conflict, UNICEF reported (pdf). In places like the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, and Palestine, children face not only death and violence, but also displacement, malnutrition, and loss of access to education and other public services.

Meanwhile, the Ebola crises in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia have left thousands of children orphaned and roughly five million out of school.

The U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has also contributed significantly to the child welfare epidemic. Ongoing conflicts in those areas have turned more than 1.7 million children into refugees, while women and girls face sex trafficking and forced marriage.

"It is sadly ironic that in this, the 25th anniversary year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child when we have been able to celebrate so much progress for children globally, the rights of so many millions of other children have been so brutally violated," said Lake. "Violence and trauma do more than harm individual children--they undermine the strength of societies."

While humanitarian agencies are attempting to address these conflicts, much of the world has turned away, UNICEF said.

"The sheer number of crises in 2014 meant that many were quickly forgotten or captured little attention," the agency stated. "Protracted crises in countries like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, continued to claim even more young lives and futures."

"The world can and must do more to make 2015 a much better year for every child," Lake said. "For every child who grows up strong, safe, healthy and educated is a child who can go on to contribute to her own, her family’s, her community’s, her nation’s and, indeed, to our common future."

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