Children and war

J Paediatr Child Health. 2003 Apr;39(3):166-72. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1754.2003.00124.x.


Children bear disproportionate consequences of armed conflict. The 21st century continues to see patterns of children enmeshed in international violence between opposing combatant forces, as victims of terrorist warfare, and, perhaps most tragically of all, as victims of civil wars. Innocent children so often are the victims of high-energy wounding from military ordinance. They sustain high-energy tissue damage and massive burns - injuries that are not commonly seen in civilian populations. Children have also been deliberately targeted victims in genocidal civil wars in Africa in the past decade, and hundreds of thousands have been killed and maimed in the context of close-quarter, hand-to-hand assaults of great ferocity. Paediatricians serve as uniformed military surgeons and as civilian doctors in both international and civil wars, and have a significant strategic role to play as advocates for the rights and welfare of children in the context of the evolving 'Laws of War'. One chronic legacy of contemporary warfare is blast injury to children from landmines. Such blasts leave children without feet or lower limbs, with genital injuries, blindness and deafness. This pattern of injury has become one of the post-civil war syndromes encountered by all intensivists and surgeons serving in four of the world's continents. The continued advocacy for the international ban on the manufacture, commerce and military use of antipersonnel landmines is a part of all paediatricians' obligation to promote the ethos of the Laws of War. Post-traumatic stress disorder remains an undertreated legacy of children who have been trapped in the shot and shell of battle as well as those displaced as refugees. An urgent, unfocused and unmet challenge has been the increase in, and plight of, child soldiers themselves. A new class of combatant comprises these children, who also become enmeshed in the triad of anarchic civil war, light-weight weaponry and drug or alcohol addiction. The International Criminal Court has outlawed as a War Crime, the conscription of children under 15 years of age. Nevertheless, there remain more than 300000 child soldiers active and enmeshed in psychopathic violence as part of both civil and international warfare. The typical profile of a child soldier is of a boy between the ages of 8 and 18 years, bonded into a group of armed peers, almost always an orphan, drug or alcohol addicted, amoral, merciless, illiterate and dangerous. Paediatricians have much to do to protect such war-enmeshed children, irrespective of the accident of their place of birth. Only by such vigorous and maintained advocacy can the world's children be better protected from the scourge of future wars.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amputation / statistics & numerical data
  • Blast Injuries / etiology*
  • Blast Injuries / mortality
  • Blast Injuries / therapy
  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • International Cooperation
  • Male
  • Relief Work / standards*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Violence
  • War Crimes
  • Warfare*
  • World Health Organization