Impact of explosive violence on civiliansAOAV: all our reportsImpact of explosive violence on children

Childhood Under Attack: A Timeline of Explosive Weapon Harm

Globally, between 2011 and 2020, at least 17,035 children were reported in English language media as having been killed and injured by explosive violence. An additional 807 children were reported as casualties of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

This is but a fraction of the true number. Many child casualties from explosive violence are not reported in English language media and monitoring and observation groups do not always distinguish between adults and children. AOAV’s data thus represents the absolute minimum of child casualties, providing an impression of the extent of harm rather than an accurate measure.

Report: Childhood Under Attack, 2021

In response to this harm, AOAV’s report Childhood Under Attack outlines the foreseeable patterns of harm when children are faced with the use of explosive weapons, in both the short and the long- term. It traces the impact of explosive violence over the course of a child’s life: from the moment of the blast to the minutes, hours, months, and years that follow.

The timeline that has two distinct but interrelated strands:

  • the lingering effect of blast injuries – a review of how blast injury will impact a child throughout their life, well into adulthood.
  • the reverberating effects of explosive violence – even when a blast does not result in child casualties, it inevitably causes indirect child-specific harm. Typically, this is when explosive weapons are detonated in a child’s community and damage infrastructure integral to a child’s quality of live.

The timeline is a construct that seeks to show how the initial blast, while horrific, only paints half a picture. Most child casualties are not the result of direct exposure to blasts; they are harmed by explosive weapons that destroy food, water sources, shelter, and healthcare. These indirect effects are not accounted for in the data; they are frequently not adequately assessed in the literature; nor are they addressed sufficiently in the humanitarian response.

Key findings:

  1. State actors are responsible for 22% of adult casualties compared to 53% of child casualties of explosive violence in the last decade. Of all explosive weapons, airstrikes have been shown to cause the greatest number of child casualties.
  2. When explosive weapons with wide-areas effects are used in populated areas, they almost always kill civilians and they frequently kill children, more so than any other conventional weapon.
  3. Children, especially very young children, consistently have worse outcomes then adults after exposure to explosive violence for three reasons:
    – The inherent physiological vulnerabilities of a child.
    – Explosive violence is often targeted at age-specific infrastructure such as schools and universities.
    – The effects of explosive violence on children are often irreversible; the harm takes place during vital stages of physical, psychological, and educational development causing, amongst others, developmental disorders and stunting.
  4. The United Nations claims that “explosive weapons touch on four of the six grave violations against children and armed conflict, including killing or maiming”11. We argue that explosive weapons touch on all six (see Figure 3).
  5. The indirect effects of explosive weapons harm significantly more children than those directly affected. Indirect effects are predictable, yet too often appropriate mitigation measures are not taken.
  6. The long-term impacts of direct and indirect effects of explosive violence on children are underreported, underfunded, and poorly understood. Growing up with a disability, in particular, poses a unique growth challenge for child victims compared to adult victims.
  7. There is a marked absence of gender disaggregated data on child casualties from explosive violence. Children are treated as genderless all too often.
  8. Boys are disproportionately subjected to the direct effects of explosive violence (i.e., blast injury). When girls are victims of explosive violence, they are more likely to suffer from marginalisation and sexual violence.
  9. Over the last decade, the number of children used to perpetrate acts explosive violence has risen. Advances in explosive weapons technology have made explosive devices more deadly and easier for children to operate.

The full report can be accessed here.

Childhood Under Attack is part of AOAV’s project examining the effects of explosive violence on children.