German development policy

A life in peace and security, protection for displaced persons

German support for children in armed conflict

Children playing next to water tanks in the refugee camp 'Hasansham U3' near Hasansham in Iraq

Many girls and boys can only dream of a life in peace and security. According to UNICEF statistics, one quarter of all the children in the world live in regions affected by conflicts or disasters. They are often exposed to grave risks. They experience violence and exploitation, are often forcibly displaced, or are recruited by armed groups to serve as fighting troops or support personnel.

Children are very often severely traumatised by the experiences of extreme violence to which they are subjected in armed conflicts and crises. They are also without a value system and lack the security provided by a stable social fabric.

Thus, protecting children in armed conflicts is an important concern of both international and German human rights policy.

Child soldiers

Kinder im Hilfsprojekt "Kinderrepublik Benposta" für ehemalige Kindersoldaten und misshandelte Kinder in Bogota, Kolumbien

An Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all parties to ensure that children under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. Yet, roughly 300,000 children all over the world are being misused by state and non-state armed groups. They are either forced to join an armed group or voluntarily join because of poverty and because they have no other future. Female child soldiers suffer particularly because they are often subjected to sexual violence and many are forced to marry soldiers.

Many child soldiers have grown up in war and know nothing but war. The only method of settling conflicts that they have learned is the use of violence. Even after the end of fighting, their armed group often remains the only point they can turn to. Moreover, many former child soldiers are unable to return to their home communities because there they are regarded as perpetrators and not as victims. This rejection drives many of these children back into the arms of the military, armed groups or criminal gangs.

Child soldiers are denied their right to normal development. Nearly all of them suffer from major psychological problems – often for the rest of their lives. In Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8.7), the international community has made a commitment to end the misuse of children as soldiers.

Displaced children

A Syrian family in a refugee camp on the Syrian-Turkish border near Nizip

Approximately half of the refugees worldwide are under 18 years of age. Children and adolescents are highly vulnerable, especially when separated from their families. This is also mentioned in the recommendations of the Geneva Convention on Refugees. The number of unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants has risen sharply in recent years.

While they are on the move, but also after they have found refuge in a host country, children and youth are at particular risk of being abused or exploited, for instance through child labour, human trafficking and forced recruitment. Often, there are particular risks for girls, such as sexual and gender-based violence and forced marriage. Children have often witnessed violent acts or suffered violence themselves, with physical and emotional effects (such as trauma or various forms of disability) having a negative impact on their development.

For too many displaced children, the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child remain unfulfilled. For example, only around two thirds of displaced children are able to go to primary school and only around a quarter can attend secondary school. Children with disabilities and girls are particularly often unable to go to school (multiple discrimination). The physical and emotional impacts of violence and displacement on children and young people are terrible. Trauma, the erosion of the social fabric and of family networks, and the collapse of health and school systems are threatening to turn these children into a "lost generation".

However, children are very resilient and they have the potential to adapt to changed circumstances and shape them to their advantage. As agents of change they can also play a positive role with regard to long-term approaches for conflict prevention, non-violent conflict management and (re-)integration. UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security expressly recognises this role.

German activities

In host countries and in conflict areas, Germany provides targeted support to foster the rights of displaced children and young people, and to enhance their opportunities for the future. Children and young people are one of the main target groups of measures carried out under the special initiative 'Tackling the root causes of displacement, reintegrating refugees'.

The assistance provided includes psychosocial counselling and health care for children, repairing school facilities and developing school capacities in host countries, promoting income-generating measures for young people, setting up safe spaces for children in refugee camps and schools, and vaccinating infants. Protecting young people and strengthening their rights is also an important contribution to peacebuilding and to the stabilisation of good governance.

Transitional development assistance is another instrument that takes the needs of children and young people into special account. The purpose of this assistance is to mitigate the impacts of crises, conflicts and natural disasters, and to serve as a link between humanitarian aid and the longer-term development cooperation that comes later. The aim is first and foremost to restore basic infrastructure and basic social services that benefit children and young people in particular.

And on 1 June 2017, at the initiative of the German government, the German parliament passed a law to combat child marriage that raises the age of consent for marriage from 16 years to 18. A marriage must be dissolved by a court ruling if one of the spouses had completed their 16th year but not yet completed their 18th year of life at the time of the marriage. Marriages where one of the spouses had not yet completed their 16th year of life at the time of the marriage are invalid on principle. These fundamental principles also apply to marriages with minors that have been validly concluded in accordance with foreign law.

Further information can be found in the sections dealing with the issues displaced people and peace.

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