Millions of children were being placed at risk by the conflicts ravaging the Middle East and North Africa, thereby threatening to reverse the gains made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) over 70 years.
This was despite the countries in the region making major strides in protecting children’s rights and wellbeing since the inception of UNICEF.
“Looking back on 70 years of UNICEF’s work for children is a source of great pride. Every country in the region has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, less children die before the age of five, and school enrollment rates have improved,” said UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere.
“But conflict risks reversing these gains for 157 million children across the region, making our mandate to protect them more crucial than ever,” he added.
According to UNICEF, nearly one in five children across the Middle East and North Africa were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, with violent conflict, poverty and displacement creating dire conditions that pushed almost 29 million boys and girls to the brink.
After years of conflict across the Middle East and North Africa, children have increasingly come under attack and suffer the brunt of war in half of the countries in the region.
Nearly half a million children were living in besieged areas in Syria and had received little to no aid in almost two years.
Almost 10 million children in Yemen were affected by conflict and living in critical conditions, with nearly 400 000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
Extreme brutality against children was rife in Iraq. According to reports, nearly 400 child rights violations were recorded since January 2016.
The ongoing military operation in Mosul had displaced nearly 74 000 people, almost half of them children.
In Sudan, Libya and the State of Palestine, conflict had pushed millions of children out of their homes and schools and denied them access to basic services.
“These grim figures on our 70th anniversary should be an urgent wake-up call to the world to work harder so that each and every child across the Middle East and North Africa can survive, thrive and reach their full potential,” said Cappelaere.
“This is not a lost generation. History will judge us, we must invest more in the region’s children today.”
Through the No Lost Generation programme, UNICEF has helped provide formal and informal learning opportunities for Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
In Syria and neighbouring refugee-host countries, UNICEF has helped vaccinate more than 21 million children against polio in 2016, and in Sudan, over 82 000 children have received psychosocial support this year.
Since January, four million children in Yemen have received nutritional services with support from UNICEF.