Children with Disabilities In Armed Conflicts: Call for Humanitarian Actions for Children

The American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM) is an Academy of over 1,100 health professionals dedicated to providing multidisciplinary scientific education and promoting excellence in research and services for the benefit of people with and at risk for cerebral palsy and other childhood-onset disabilities.

As an academy for health care professionals and individuals with childhood onset disabilities, the AACPDM is aware of the disproportionate physical and psychological affects suffered by children with medical illness of all types who are in conflict zones.  The conflict in the Ukraine is the most recent example, sparking massive population displacement. Since February 24th, 2022, half a million children have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, with the number of refugees continuing to grow. 1  Now, humanitarian actions are needed to protect children's rights to safety, health, education, psychosocial support, and protection. Importantly, in 1989 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was introduced in order to enshrine the protection of children in conflict in international law.2

Children with disabilities are more likely than other children to experience violence, and this vulnerability is heightened in humanitarian crises.3,4 During armed conflict, the lives of children with disabilities are especially affected when health care and social service infrastructure deteriorates. Crucially, armed conflict negatively impacts the rights of children with disabilities and their access to services in many ways. It compromises health care and rehabilitation services, access to centers providing social support, as well as access to education and recreation. Furthermore, armed conflict has a major negative effect on the mental health of children and adolescents with and without disabilities. The psychological impact of witnessing armed conflict is increasingly being recognized as a major problem for children.5  Parents and caregivers of children with disabilities face additional challenges during armed conflict. Families looking after a member with a disability endure more unfavorable economic conditions, rising costs combined with deteriorating security and transport services further reduce access to services.

The AACPDM encourages protecting children with disabilities and their families affected during times of armed conflict. It is crucial to provide accessible information to children with disabilities and adopt disability-inclusive programming to ensure children with disabilities benefit from humanitarian relief.

The most vulnerable are the most affected.  The bravery and resolve of the medical care teams in Ukraine – and nearby countries assisting refugees -  is both inspiring and humbling.  We stand with the members of the medical community of which we are a part.

As we continue to hope for global peace. The following organizations are asking for assistance to help alleviate a growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine:

UNICEF
UNICEF is supporting health, nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation and protection for children and families caught in the conflict in Ukraine.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders
MSF is conducting a range of activities in Ukraine to help people travel to health care facilities and access prescribed medications.

International Committee of the Red Cross
The Switzerland-based international organization seeks to help people affected by the conflict and support the work of the Ukrainian Red Cross.

Save the Children
The London-based organization helps deliver essential humanitarian aid to vulnerable children in Ukraine and around the world.

UN Refugee Agency
The international organization is providing emergency assistance to families in Ukraine, including cash assistance and opportunities for resettlement.

Voices of Children
The charitable foundation of this organization is helping to provide psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by the Ukrainian conflict.

 

References

UNICEF. Press release. March 3, 2022 (available at https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/one-week-conflict-ukraine-half-million-children-become-refugees) accessed 3 March 2022

UN General Assembly. Convention on the rights of the child, 20 November 1989. United Nations, Treaty Series, vol 1577

Lisa Jones et al. Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. The Lancet, Vol. 380, 2012, pp. 899-907.

UNICEF. Children with disabilities in situations of armed conflict. 2018

Pritchard E, Choonara I. Armed conflict and child mental health. BMJ Paediatrics Open 2017;1:e000087.


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