International law is clear on need to protect children who are victims of conflicts: Nobel winner Kailash Satyarthi on Israel-Hamas war

The worst affected are three million children in Israel and the one million children in Gaza and a generation as they have been scarred forever, he says.

November 01, 2023 02:26 pm | Updated November 02, 2023 10:41 am IST

Kailash Satyarthi with children in Zaatari refugee camp of Jordan that houses a large number of Syrian Arab refugees displaced by the war in Syria. 

Kailash Satyarthi with children in Zaatari refugee camp of Jordan that houses a large number of Syrian Arab refugees displaced by the war in Syria. 

Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his work in safeguarding children and childhood of a large number of children worldwide, has been deeply disturbed by the images of children being harmed in the latest Israel-Palestinian crisis. He suggests children and young people affected by conflicts should join hands to heal the wounds inflicted by war and conflict. Excerpts from an interview: 

Do you think there’s a need to seek accountability for the death of children and women in the current Israel-Palestine conflict? 

The photos and stories of the children who were killed in the appalling massacre by Hamas are so deeply shocking and upsetting. The attack must be condemned by all. It is the very first line of the statement by Nobel laureates. There needs to be accountability for the children deliberately killed and kidnapped by Hamas. It is important that the accountability focuses on the perpetrators, children bear no responsibility for the fighting, yet so many children have already died in the subsequent bombings by Israel in Gaza. Palestinian children are our children and Israeli children are our children. International law is clear on the need to protect children who are victims of conflict. Those who are responsible for kidnapping innocent children cannot run away from the responsibility, they are accountable to this generation and the generations to come. 

What in your assessment is the likely impact of such conflicts on children? 

The worst affected are three million children in Israel and the one million children in Gaza and a generation as they have been scarred forever. Rushing to shelter from bombs has become a regular part of life for all children in Israel and Gaza and many of them have been evacuated, separated from parents or have had friends and family who have been killed. It has a tremendous cost on everyone but the mental and educational cost particularly on children is immense as the cascading effect of this will be felt for generations. 

What kind of impact do you think the ongoing violence in Gaza and Ukraine will have on the children and their mindset? 

War is always brutal and many who survive never recover from what they see — this time on our tablets and phones we are witnessing some of the terrible things in almost real time. Seeing so much violence and brutality can be extremely damaging for children. In much of the world the harm to children has also been presented selectively which is also damaging for the future. Parents in both Israel and Gaza whose children have been killed have then seen people claim that this didn’t happen. It is a final insult to those children when their very existence and death is then denied. 

Nobel Peace Prize winners form a powerful pressure group and what are they doing in this situation? 

Many Nobel laureates will be taking individual actions but together over one hundred Nobel laureates have decided to join me in lighting three candles — one for all the Israeli children killed and kidnapped in the massacres, one for all the Palestinian children killed and maimed in the subsequent bombing and one for humanity and hope. I am thankful for their leadership. We have also released a joint statement that calls for all children to be protected and for a just and lasting peace for all children living in Israel and Palestine. There is a grave risk of an even worse loss of life in the coming weeks and of children in other countries dying too. We need to remember that they are all our children. 

The moral voice of Nobel Laureates should propel the global community to take proactive and concrete steps to end the war. There is no substitute for peace. 

Do you have any personal experience with children from the conflict zone that you would like to share that may be relevant to the current situation? 

My organisation and I have had the opportunity to connect with many children and their families at border regions of India as well as Pakistan during the Kargil War as well as in other parts of the world, including Ethopia, Columbia, Timor-Leste and so on. 

Children on both sides of the war suffer, they are the worst-affected and the trauma they experience has long-lasting effects on their physical and emotional well-being. Children want wars to end, they want education and most of all they want their childhood back. 

Children and youth from conflicting zones should get together for dialogues to improve the relationships between their countries. We have created a platform for young people with the motto ‘Children for Peace and Peace for Children’ to break the cycle of generational war and trauma. 

The conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and the unfolding multiple conflicts in Africa are important as they are all noted for the harm that they are doing to children. What is happening to the idea of childhood in this kind of a situation? 

So many childhoods have been destroyed in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, in numerous countries in Africa, and all around the world. The world will only make progress and can only call itself civilised when every child is free to be a child. The wider injustices faced by many millions of children in Africa, which have been ignored for so long, will also likely be sidelined and exacerbated during the crisis. Every child should be free, safe and educated and we need to act with compassion for all children. We have globalised so many things, our economies, our communications, even our fighting. It is time we globalise compassion. Only when each of us views every child around the world as our own child will we stop the violence and conflict that has plagued children and childhoods for so long. 

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