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Perilous journeys

14 September 2017, Emergencies

For children who flee conflict, the road to safety is often more complex than landing in a refugee camp. Bullets, bombs and atrocities are just the beginning of a long and dangerous journey.

Violence comes in many forms. Conflict is just one of them. It shatters dreams, tears families apart and devastates children’s lives. Help us stop violence against children – because if we don’t reach them first, someone else will.

Every five seconds, a child is forced to flee an area affected by armed conflict.1

Here are seven dangers facing children fleeing conflict:

1. Abuse and exploitation

Children and youth on the move via Mediterranean Sea routes to Europe experience high levels of abuse, trafficking and exploitation.2

Sexual abuse, trafficking, forced into child marriage or hard labour. Refugee camps are not always safe havens for children, especially children who have been separated from their family. It can be worse for children on the move. For girls, this is more likely to be sexual violence and trafficking. Boys are more likely to be forced to work for free. Yet both girls and boys can experience similar forms of abuse at different stages of their journey.

2. Death

Between September 2015 and February 2016, two children drowned every day on their way to Europe.3

Just because a child escapes conflict, doesn't mean they are safe from harm. Children trying to make it to Europe by boat face the very real risk of drowning at sea. Yet girls and boys also die from starvation, dehydration, exposure, physical violence, landmines, disease or hypothermia during their flight to safety.

3. Homelessness

28 million children have left their homes because of conflict; 17 million are internally displaced (they are still living inside their country) and 10 million are child refugees.4

Forced to leave home because of conflict, hiding in bombed-out buildings and forests, living in makeshift camps or sleeping rough. Children on the run are essentially homeless. If a child refugee makes it to another country, there’s also good chance they will be homeless at some stage of their journey.

4. Becoming a child soldier

Conflict has forced nearly 1 child in 80 from their homes, sometimes to the frontlines.5

Some children run from conflict and into the fire. With nowhere to go, and separated from their families, boys and girls can be recruited as child soldiers or as workers for the warring parties. In Syria, more than half of the child soldiers recruited in 2015 were under 15 years old, and some were as young as seven.6

5. Trauma

After six years of seeing their family and friends die before their eyes, Syrian children are severely affected by toxic stress.

Toxic stress is the most dangerous form of stress response, but we are only now starting to understand how serious toxic stress is for millions of girls and boys who’ve witnessed or experienced the horror of war. While they may be physically safe from bullets and bombs, they aren’t safe from trauma that may affect them for life.

6. Imprisonment

Children in Nauru’s detention centre have endured prolonged suffering. Many have faced sexual, mental and physical harm.

At any stage of their journey, children can find themselves locked up with no contact with the outside world. In Australia, children have spent years waiting on Nauru. Currently, in Libya, there are thousands of refugees in detention, including children. They have no basic rights, are subject to abuse, and have no idea when they will be free.

7. Exclusion and discrimination

1 in 3 children living outside their country of birth is a refugee.7

When a child refugee finally arrives somewhere they feel safe, society doesn’t always embrace them. They may not speak the language, maybe they aren’t allowed to go to school or their parents aren’t allowed to work. Discrimination and exclusion can lead to stress, depression and suicide. Just one more form of unexpected and invisible violence faced on this perilous journey to safety.

Save the Children works to protect children from harm at every step of their journey. We work in countries children are fleeing – countries such as Syria, where brutal war has ripped apart the lives of millions; countries en route, where we do whatever it takes to make sure children are protected; and destination countries, where we make sure children have access to care and support.

Every child deserves a childhood, free from violence. Donate today.

2 Harrowing Journeys, Children and Youth on the Move across the Mediterranean, Unicef
5 Stolen Childhoods Report

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