The atrocities in Tigray have gained more attention in recent weeks, culminating in G7 members making a joint statement calling for an end to the atrocities and assistance to all victims. There have been several U.N. statements with similar messages.
The ongoing armed conflict began on November 4, 2020, when “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the EDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.” A few days later, on November 9, 2020, evidence of the mass killing of several hundred people, mainly Amharans, in the western Tigray town of Mai Kadra, began to emerge.
In recent weeks, media outlets have been reporting on mass killings in Axum, the use of rape and sexual violence, the killings of religious leaders and the suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
However, little is being said about the situation of children. In May 2021, Save the Children shed light on what is happening to children during the conflict n Tigray. According to the organization, “thousands of children are currently separated from their parents as the result of the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, with many living in unsafe and dire conditions in informal camps.”
On June 1, 2021, UNICEF reported that “Over 6,000 unaccompanied or separated children have so far been identified and registered for protection and assistance.” Over 720,000 children have been displaced by fighting across the region.
Some children would have been subjected to rape and sexual violence, as the crime rages on in the region. Others would have witnessed the massacres and suffer from trauma as a result. Those injured are left without medical assistance as a result of medical supply shortages. Outside of school, children in Tigray are extremely vulnerable to exploration (including sexual violence, child marriage and others) and trafficking. Children have been out of school for months, putting them at risk of exploitation, sexual violence, early marriage and child labor as well as interfering with their right to an education. This state of affairs makes it less likely they will return to school.
Save the Children raised serious concerns in relation to the assistance granted to children. They say that children are not safe in their current care arrangements, “Separated children face enormous challenges in meeting their basic needs, missing the people in their lives who would usually help them find food, water and shelter.” Furthermore, they raised concerns over their mental and physical wellbeing.
Tigray’s children require more attention and a comprehensive response.
June 4 is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression and was established as such by the U.N. General Assembly on August 19, 1982. Its implementation arose in response to the atrocities perpetrated against Palestinian and Lebanese children. The main aim behind this annual, internationally recognized day is to “acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.” The day is used by the U.N. to affirm its commitment to protecting the rights of children.
The day should be used to shed light on the situation of children in conflicts, and especially, situation that continue to be neglected. As UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warned: “Children are paying a terrible price for this conflict. (…) We call on all parties to do everything in their power to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse, and to prevent separation from their parents or primary caregivers.” States and international bodies must prioritize assistance to children in Tigray so that they are spared and not forgotten.