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Photo: Giovanni Diffidenti / WeWorld.

The brutal toll of conflict on children

New and escalating conflicts over recent years have left millions of people around the world without adequate food and protection. As the conflicts continue, the number of children and families in desperate need of aid grows.

By ChildFund Australia

Thirteen-year-old David* was woken in the middle of the night by his mother who told him: “You’re not going to school because war has come to us.”

It was a winter morning on 24 February 2022, and Russia had just launched airstrikes across Ukraine. David’s little town, east of the capital Kyiv, was one of the first to be attacked.

“I was scared and surprised, but I did what my parents told me,” David said.

The day before, David had been at school. His teacher had shown students where to hide in an emergency evacuation. “The feeling was that something could happen soon,” David said.

That night, David remembers seeing firefighters and ambulances heading to Kyiv.


Cold, sick, and frightened

David’s town was quiet for a few days, but then sounds of gunfire and shelling swept through. “It was very scary … Things in the house were shaking from the explosions,” David said.

David and his family hid in the basement. The water and the electricity in the house cut off. It was cold and damp in the basement, and David and his family got sick.

After a while, David and his family fled to a relative’s house, which still had heating. They were warm but they lived in constant fear.

“One day the siren sounded very loud and we heard a very loud roar,” David said.
“There was a big explosion, and we went outside and saw that a house nearby had no roof, and there were wounded and dead people.”
“Everything around the house was on fire.”
David and his family had to wait some days to leave. When they began to flee, they came under fire.
“There was a tank in the distance aiming at us,” David said.

Photo: Maxim Dondyuk.

David and his mother eventually ­arrived at a shelter, but David had to say goodbye to his father. “The last time we saw my dad, he was leading us to the evacuation site,” David said. “He went to save other people.”

Many surviving children like David, have been separated from family members. Since the conflict started in Ukraine, most men aged between 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country.


Conflict is stealing children’s lives and futures

Conflicts have led to the death of millions of children. For even more children, conflict has pushed them further into poverty and placed them at a high risk of abuse and exploitation.

In Ukraine, an average of at least two children have been killed or injured every day since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022.

In Myanmar, at least 30 children were killed in sudden airstrikes in February 2023 as part of ongoing conflict in the country.

ChildFund Australia CEO, Margaret Sheehan, called on the international community to get behind organisations on the ground that are helping children and families caught up in conflict. “This senseless loss of children’s lives is devastating and reinforces the importance of ChildFund’s work to protect children wherever we can, especially in times of conflict,” she said. “Donations can help provide children like David a chance to survive and begin to recover from conflict.”

In Afghanistan, decades of conflict have led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Help children survive conflict

As of April 2023, 15 million children in Afghanistan – more than a third of the country's population – were in need humanitarian and protection assistance.
Basic services and food are limited. Infrastructure has collapsed and it is almost impossible for women to work or get an education.
For single or widowed mothers, it is especially difficult to sufficiently provide for their children.

Around the world, conflict is depriving children of their basic rights to survive, to be protected, and to grow up safe and healthy. The harm of conflict on children is compounded by the effects of climate change, poverty, and food shortages.

Change what happens next

How your donation can help children

The uncertainty and violence of the conflict has left a mark on David and his mother. While they now live in safer conditions, in a shelter for displaced people, for a long time David shuddered at every sound. A psychologist diagnosed him with a high level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

David is one of more than 2.5 million children who have been internally displaced in Ukraine and who are living without adequate food, health care and shelter. Many children no longer can go to school and are living in constant fear and uncertainty.

The donations of ChildFund supporters in Australia and around the world are helping to provide food, health care and safety for children like David.

Your donation can provide families with emergency transfers of cash so they can buy the food, medications, and other essentials that their children need.
Ameena*, a staff member of ChildFund Alliance partner, WeWorld, in Afghanistan said: “Some mothers have sent their children back to school, some have been able to protect their daughters from forced child marriages.
The emergency cash saved them from freezing in the winter. Now they hope for a better future.”

Your donation can also provide hygiene kits and warm clothes, and provide safe spaces for children where they can learn and continue their schooling, play, and just be children for a while.

Thanks to the generosity of ChildFund supporters, David is receiving psychosocial support to help him recover from trauma. He is feeling safer now and has made new friends. He also sleeps better, and he thinks about the horrors of his home being attacked less often.

“I really want to go home… My dream is to go home and ride my bike like before,” David said.

Please donate to help children like David survive conflict, and begin to recover.

Donate now

*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.