The Children Of Crisis

Kailash Satyarthi
The Huffington Post

The city of Istanbul in Turkey will witness an important development this week. For the first time ever, the international community will come together here for the World Humanitarian Summit on 23-24 May, 2016, to discuss the serious humanitarian crisis that the world is facing.

Apart from challenges such as climate change, terrorism, economic slowdown, unemployment and more, the biggest emergency facing us today is population displacement, migration and refugee crisis owing to insurgencies, conflicts, wars and natural disasters.

Today, one out of every seven people lives in a conflict-ridden area. Almost half of the 1 billion crises-affected population of the world are children aged between 3 and 18.

Some of the major consequences of conflict are separation of families, lack of opportunities in the formal labour market, increased poverty, and greater chances of children going missing and becoming invisible. According to police reports, 10,000 refugee kids went missing in Europe. I ask, where are these children? Are these invisible children forced into the worst forms of child labour and slavery? Unfortunately, the reality is that because of their vulnerability, children in such difficult times become the worst sufferers.

Both natural as well as man-created emergencies magnify the factors that increase children's vulnerability. Often, disasters such as earthquakes, floods and landslides propel children into child labour, early marriage and trafficking. It has been observed that post the insufficient aid disbursement in neighbouring Nepal after the brutal earthquake, there has been a spurt in child labour and trafficking cases. Similarly, the ongoing drought crisis in India is triggering internal displacement.

In fact, 184 million people were displaced by disasters in the world between 2008 and 2014. This is equivalent to a shocking one person per second.

As an immediate consequence of large-scale displacement, the education of an entire generation of children in several countries is being compromised. Almost half of the world's 59 million out-of-school children live in conflict areas. The education situation in humanitarian emergencies is even more sombre for girls, who are more than twice as likely as boys to drop out of school in such situations. In 2015 alone, 39 million girls had their education disrupted by emergencies.

In October 2015, I visited a Syrian refugee camp in Germany where I met a child who had lost his leg and was confined to a wheelchair. This boy had seen his father get killed in a bomb attack in front of him. He had lost his mother on the way from Syria to Germany, and had no family left. Still he told me that he would be delighted to go back to his home country if given security and education.

He was at least fortunate to survive -- many of his brothers and sisters in similarly ravaged countries face a worse fate. In Syria, young girls were sold for sex slavery for a price less than that of a pack of cigarettes. On the Iraq-Syria border, a mere five-year-old child was given a gun by a militia group; when he failed to handle the gun, he was buried alive. A young girl forced into sexual slavery was killed when she was unable to satisfy her "customers".

It is our duty and responsibility as citizens of a humane, civilized world to stop this brutality on innocent young lives. Every heart and every door should be open to children. Not one more child should be left to suffer.

The United Nations has identified seven pertinent areas that require immediate social, political and economic intervention: 
• Prevent and end conflict; 
• Respect rules of war; 
• Leave no one behind; 
• Catalyse action for gender equality; 
• Respond to disasters and climate change; 
• Work differently to end need; and 
• Invest in humanity.

At the summit, the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, along with our partners, will bring together leaders at a discussion on protecting children. Through a high-level panel, we will aim to build a strong political will to bring the issues of child labour, slavery and deprivation from education during crises, into the mainstream humanitarian response mechanism.

For steering out of the multi-faceted crises, several targeted national and international programmes are needed to reach those left furthest behind, such as displaced and refugee children engaged in the worst forms of child labour, or at risk of trafficking.

Gaps in education for children and youth must be eliminated for enabling them to secure a better future. Less than 2% of all humanitarian aid was spent on education in 2015; this ought to change.

A strong legal support system for children in crises should be created along with raising awareness of possible risks they might face. An increased onus lies on countries and communities to review and adapt national policies and budgets for providing better services to vulnerable children. Also, decriminalizing of migration in such sensitive times can be explored. The focus also has to include long-term planned funding for victims and survivors of conflicts and disasters, apart from the provision of immediate relief.

We cannot afford to fail anymore generations to the worst humanitarian crises ever. With a sense of urgency, I will demand that not even one child is left unprotected. The humanitarian response mechanism ensures that children are not pushed into slavery, get trafficked or are forced to miss education. I appeal to governments, inter-governmental agencies, corporations and civil society for a concerted, coordinated, holistic and sustainable response.

A novel and positive element of this summit is that the participants are asked to make concrete political, financial or social commitments. Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation and I commit to launch a worldwide youth campaign this year for globalizing compassion and inspiring global citizenship. This will aim to engage 100 million children and youth to champion the cause of approximately 100 million left-out young people. Simultaneously, we will launch an extraordinary initiative of Nobel Laureates and world leaders as a collective strong moral voice and force for children. The future belongs to our children, and we must step up to the plate with funding so that no child is denied a childhood where they are free to be children, get an education and hope for a better future.