Saving Children, Stopping War

NEXT year, UNICEF will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The suffering of children in war prompted the founding of UNICEF in 1946, and their continuing suffering reminds us how much more we need to do.

We decided to begin commemorations with a special edition of our annual "State of the World's Children" report. Its antiwar agenda will help erect a shield of protection around children caught in armed conflict.

Modern warfare - particularly intrastate, civil strife - is becoming increasingly lethal to civilians, who now account for 90 percent of casualties. Children are the most vulnerable and bear the brunt of the suffering. We estimate that, in the past decade, no fewer than 2 million children have lost their lives, 4 million to 5 million have been disabled, 1 million have lost or been separated from their parents, and some 10 million children have been psychologically traumatized in war.

Armed conflicts threaten to impede, and in some cases wipe out, the immense progress made for children over these 50 years. In the last decade alone, approximately 25 million young lives have been saved through low-cost/high-impact programs such as immunization against major childhood diseases.

The global village must find ways to end the slaughter - indeed, the targeting - of children. UNICEF's antiwar agenda includes, among other points, these six key areas:

*Investment in prevention. Address the root causes of conflict, in particular poverty, and avoid the high cost of having to provide aid to war victims, rescue failed states, and assist millions of refugees.

*Children as "zones of peace." The inviolability of children must become a universal ethical principle. Ensuring that they receive humanitarian assistance should be elevated to a tenet of international law.

*Child soldiers. Raise the minimum age for recruitment into armed forces to 18 from 15, the age stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. No cause justifies militarization of childhood.

*Antipersonnel land-mines. Ban these weapons, which are particularly harmful to children.

*War crimes. International war crimes tribunals must strongly uphold children's rights and be given the support and resources needed to bring perpetrators to justice.

*Education for peace. Respect for human values and tolerance for others, along with nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, should be taught to children everywhere, in times of peace and of war.

These measures will not bring peace overnight. But if we come together to protect our children, we will not only save millions of precious lives and billions of dollars; we will begin to make war itself less of an option.

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