Suicide bombs, landmines, unexploded ordinance, air strikes and other forms of explosives account for 72 percent of child deaths and injuries across the five deadliest conflicts, new analysis by Save the Children reveals today.
The study shows children are uniquely and horrifically injured by explosive weapons compared to adults, and that children exposed to explosive weapons often present with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and agoraphobia.
The analysis comes from UN data on the five deadliest conflicts for children – Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – as well as from a new review of child injury data, commissioned by Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership (PBIP), of which Save the Children is a co-convenor.
As a practical response, the partnership has today launched a new ground-breaking field handbook to help doctors and surgeons working with children injured by explosive weapons. The manual is a world-first guide to the unique procedures needed to keep children alive, and help them recover fully, following catastrophic injuries from explosive weapons.
Save the Children’s analysis on the impact of explosive weapons on children reveals:
- In 2017 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen 7,364 children were killed or maimed in conflict, with an estimated 5,322 (72%) of those linked to blasts.
- In Afghanistan, explosive weapons were the cause of death in 84 per cent of child conflict fatalities over a two-year period.
- In some cases, children in conflict were exclusively killed by blasts, such as Gaza in 2014.
- The physical toll of explosive weapons on children is coupled with a heavy psychological toll, with 84% of adults and almost all children saying that ongoing bombing and shelling was the number one cause of psychological stress in children’s daily lives.
The analysis also illustrates how healthcare systems decimated by years of conflict are poorly resourced to treat ‘unique and unusual’ child blast injuries, lacking essential items like tourniquets designed for children or child-specific transfusion protocols.
Among the thousands of children injured by explosive weapons is Mahmoud*, 12, who lives in Gaza. In 2014 when he was playing in the street, he was hit by an explosive weapon. Mahmoud said:
“I heard an explosion and I felt something go into my eye. I touched my eye and began to run. I felt blood pouring out. My eye fell out. I ran to the shop, ‘help me, help me’. They took me to the hospital, and they treated me. I woke up at the hospital. They operated on me. When I woke up from the anaesthetic, they told me that I had lost my eye.”
Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds said:
“This new analysis really demonstrates how children are the ultimate victims of war. Almost every hour a child is killed or maimed by an explosive weapon, with many losing limbs, shattering bones or suffering other horrific injuries.”
“International law makes clear that everyone has a responsibility to make sure children are protected in war. Yet explosive weapons continue to kill, maim and terrorise children in their homes, schools and even in hospitals. We can and must do more to protect children in conflict.”
“With the federal election on Saturday, Save the Children is calling on the future Prime Minister to do more to protect children in conflict, including halting Australia’s export of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – countries accused of committing war crimes against children in Yemen.
“It’s unthinkable that Australia could be supplying military assets that are potentially fuelling the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. It’s time to stop the war on children.”
Major General (Ret) Michael von Bertele, former Director General of British Army Medical Services and member of the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership (PBIP), said:
“We know children’s bodies are different. They aren’t just small adults. Their skulls are still not fully formed, and their undeveloped muscles offer less protection, so a blast is more likely to damage their brain and lungs or tear apart organs in their abdomen, even when there’s no visible damage.
“And when children suffer severe injuries to their legs and arms, it takes highly specialised knowledge to know where to amputate so that you can factor in future growth. Without that, children are left with even worse disabilities, and often intractable pain for life.”
Referring to the field manual, Mr von Bertele said, “The sad reality is most medics just haven’t been trained to treat children injured by blasts. Nearly all the textbooks and procedures we have are based on research on injured soldiers, who are usually fit adults.”