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Stopping the War on Children

LONDON – Twenty years ago this month, the United Nations General Assembly received a report by former Mozambican Education Minister Graça Machel detailing the effects of armed conflict on children. Documenting a pattern of systematic and targeted attacks, including killing, rape, and forced recruitment into armed groups, Machel concluded: “This is a space devoid of the most basic human values….There are few further depths to which humanity can sink.”

Machel was wrong. A generation later, humanity is plumbing even greater depths of moral depravity. Children living in conflict zones are being targeted for violence on an unprecedented scale, and the elaborate system of UN human-rights provisions designed to protect them is violated with impunity.

On the twentieth anniversary of the Machel report, the international community must draw a line and stop the war against children.

That war takes many forms. In some cases, children are front-line targets. Rape, forced marriage, enslavement, and abduction have become standard tactics for groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, and their counterparts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. Killing kids for attending school is viewed as a legitimate military strategy.