A ‘Graveyard of Children’

The median age of people  in Gaza is just 18 years. Some 65% of the population is under 24.

To date, more than 41% of the 11000 people killed in Gaza as of November 2023 are children, according to the UN.

Many people are missing, trapped under the rubble of destroyed homes. More than half of those missing are children.

Children account for more than 30% of those injured in Gaza, possibly indicating the low level of survival among children caught in the conflict.

These statistics echo previous research showing the disproportionate consequences on children in armed conflict.

But the violence against children has not been limited to Gaza.

Graphic accounts point to the killing of numerous Israeli children in the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Scores of young people were killed at a music festival.

Thousands of lives are being lost in the Israel-Hamas war, including a disproportionate amount of children.

At least 33 of the estimated 240 Israeli hostages taken by Hamas are thought to be children, including babies and infants.

In the West Bank, at least 122 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations since October 7, 39 of them children. It’s unclear how many of those casualties are directly because of the conflict.

It’s an extraordinarily grim stock-take, but key to understanding the nature of the conflict.

Sadly, the suffering of children in Gaza is not new.

For decades, children in Gaza have been among the world’s most vulnerable groups, with very high rates of paediatric mental health problems, stunted growth, lead poisoning, malnutrition and post-traumatic stress disorder.

An Israeli study showed high rates of psychopathology among those exposed to trauma from military attacks.

Other research that compared the wellbeing of Israeli and Palestinian children found the latter fared significantly worse.

These conditions have worsened since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006.

There are claims from both sides of breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of the Laws of War.

Regardless of these allegations, there has been a fundamental breach of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties.

The convention is made up of 54 articles that aim to protect and secure children’s wellbeing, including during armed conflict.

There are specific requirements of states to protect the lives of children from violence, abuse and neglect at both civil and political levels.

Children in Palestine and Israel are bearing the brunt of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

International humanitarian law is unequivocal in combatants’ legal responsibility to protect children in all situations of armed conflict.

The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols cover children in the same way they cover civilians during war.

But there is extra protection for those under 18, with children considered an “object of special respect”.
This extends to children who are actively participating in the conflict.

Israel and Palestine are signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Convention.

The UN is also investigating allegations of war crimes on all sides from October 7, 2023.

Despite all the legal protections, it is clear children are suffering.

The legal provision for special respect of children in war isn’t being adequately considered. It requires all sides to consider carefully the world they will leave behind.


Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 22, Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2023