Effects of war on children

To protect children from the effects of war a better understanding of what these effects might be is needed. Some are obvious, some less so. In today' s wars and armed conflicts, more than 90 per cent of casualties are civilians " half of them children. This is no accident: children are now deliberately targeted, their communities are devastated, and they are coerced into becoming soldiers."

IN HORRIFIED FACES of children cowering in a bomb shelter in Mostar or Vitez or Ilidza during one of the regular attacks carried out on these towns, the destruction and insensitivity of war seems irrational to Muslims, Croats or Serbians. Despite this heart-piercing picture of horror, however, it is likely that some of the same people who are staring at the horrified faces of their children will soon be entering the battlefield, voluntarily or involuntarily, to contribute to the horror. Sometimes the pressure of this realisation has been so great for not only the recruits, but also for their parents and partners that some have committed suicide.

Most accounts of the war have attempted to portray the military competition with the civilians on the sidelines. But while the majority of civilians are not direct participants, many are direct victims. In fact, the overwhelming majority of victims are civilians. Thus a much truer depiction of war is given by viewing the humanitarian conditions of the civilian victims of war, especially the children.

Almost every child in Bosnia and Hercegovina carries with him or her a history of numerous problems and attempted solutions. Sometimes these will not be superficially apparent, instead they will show up as the child tries to become a contributing member of society or a caring parent. It is because of the effects war can have on children that attempts have been and are being made to protect children.


The recognition that children should be protected from the effects of war is not new. Indeed there are instruments of protection which currently exist. At the base there are the standards. The laws of armed conflicts, ironically referred to as humanitarian laws, human rights laws and even a special area of these dealing with the protection of children. Together these laws form a minimum standard that their drafters believed to be the last outpost of civilised society. Some of the provisions are:

- Children must be shown special care appropriate for their circumstances;
- Children should not be separated from their parents;
- Children under 15 years of age should not be recruited to fight in war;
- Children should be evacuated from areas of danger to protected areas.

The best indicators of health of a society are the indicators of child and infant health. Not only are children and infants the most sensitive to disaster, but they are also the group that a civilised society will strive most to protect.

After mortality, nutrition is the most important indicators of child health. And as is the case in most parts of the world, the most vulnerable groups are the hardest hit. The misuse of humanitarian assistance is often a contributory factor. And anyone who has visited for example Sarajevo, Pale, Belgrade or Posse where military headquarters are based can attest to the relatively high standard of cuisine that the military chiefs enjoy, while sometimes within reach of the aroma of brewing coffee are civilians who haven't had a hot meal for more than a year. 

The psychological impact of war   

The psychological impact of the war on children has been illustrated by psychologists who have studied them. Half of the one million children who were traumatised were estimated to have seen dead or severely mutilated people. More than two-thirds of the children interviewed had feared they were going to die. 

(article taken from www.ppu.org.uk)