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PROTECTION OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN CONFLICT AND POST CONFLICT SITUATIONS

One cannot dispute the fact that war affects both men and women heavily, but in vastly different manners. While men are usually mobilized to fight, women and children are classified as civilans.That is why, throughout history, they were usually the ones to suffer the gravest consequences of war, those we often don`t hear much about. Those who survive these atrocities later have to live with vivid images of all the horrors of war. During conflicts, women and children are the most common, helpless and defenseless victims of it, who suffer debilitating long-term consequences, which continue long after the conflict withers away. Women and children suffer disproportionately due to poor living conditions, malnutrition, sexual violence, and intentional injury in conflict and post-conflict scenarios. Humanitarian NGOs estimate that during the last ten years, an estimated 10 million children have also been killed as a result of armed conflicts, while the young survivors have been left traumatized, exploited, wounded, mutilated or disabled.

One of the increasingly common features of war and violent conflict is human trafficking. General purpose of trafficking civilians living in crisis areas is exploitation, including sexual exploitation and prostitution, forced labor and slavery. What is more, organ harvesting often follows human trafficking, and that is directly concerned with the violation of human dignity and liberty. And that is not nearly the only harrowing consequence of conflict.

                 HRC 1           HRC 2

According to statistics, more than 240 million children are living in countries affected by conflicts around the world. Thousands of them become child soldiers. Some are no older than 8, serving in government forces and armed opposition groups. They take on many roles, from fighting on the front lines and taking part in suicide missions, to acting as spies, messengers or lookouts. Girls, on the other hand, are often forced into sexual slavery. Usually they are abducted or recruited forcefully, although some join out of desperation, seeing it as their only chance for survival.

Another detrimental and ever-present form of violence which spikes during times of conflict, and after, is gender based violence. Women are often targeted for different reasons than men, and are affected by their experiences in undoubtedly distinctive ways. Violations of women’s basic human rights during conflict situations represent violations of fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. And it is only in the past few decades that these crimes have been recognized as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Systematic rape and other forms of gender based violence, such as forced impregnation/miscarriages, disease transmission, slavery, kidnapping etc, are increasingly used as weapons of war. Moreover, rape is sometimes used for ethnic cleansing. Some conflicts have even seen the establishment of sexual torture camps where gang-rape and rapes with foreign objects (e.g. guns, knives) are no rarity. This issue has been discussed and condemned in numerous documents, from the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Declaration to the Beijing Declaration.

All of that does not nearly exhaust the consequences of war on women’s and children’s lives. As statistics show between 75% and 80% of the world’s 65.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons are women and underage children. Refugees left their countries borders while internally displaced people (IDPs) did not, but were forced to leave their homes for their own safety. The number of refugees and IDPs is rapidly growing and the issue is that international community could be doing more to provide much needed assistance.

Another aspect of life which suffers during war is education. It is the fundamental human right every person has, as stated in the 1989. Convention of the Rights of the Child. Education is the key to empower women and children in conflict and post-conflict areas. Nonetheless, in 2016 only 60% of refugee children were enrolled in primary schools and 23% were believed to be in secondary schools. This, and many more issues concerning child refugees, exploitation and sexual violence is strongly condemned in the Human Rights Council`s resolution 7/29.  

HRC 4Also, civilians in conflict zones are always in perpetual danger of being attacked as they go about their daily business, or getting injured by landmines, both during and after the conflict. It is estimated that close to 90% of current war casualties are civilians, the majority of them being women and children. Furthermore, many of them are attacked at the police stations when they are arrested, at border crossings, in refugee camps, or even in special camps created for a specific purpose of exploiting people.  Moreover, a vast majority of them live in extreme poverty and without functioning state institutions or health care.

Lastly, when it is finally time to put a conflict to an end and commence peace talks, the negotiators often overlook a strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability: include women. Despite women’s contributions to preventing and resolving conflicts, they are often excluded from negotiating tables. Female security sector officials frequently have access to populations and venues that are closed to men, which allows them to gather intelligence about potential security risks. The participation of civil society groups including women’s organizations makes a peace agreement 64% less likely to fail. Higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for a conflict both between and within states. The vast majority of peace agreements reached since 1990. fail to reference women and address their concerns, such as gender-based violence. There have been some attempts to shed the light on this issue, for example the Security Council Resolution 1325, however, women continue to be notoriously absent in peace processes.

To conclude, we are left with many unanswered questions, among which these stand out:

* Does the conflict simply heighten the violence that was already occurring?

* How much do high levels of impunity during conflicts contribute to the extent and the intensity of the violence?

* Is a rethinking of laws of armed conflict or international humanitarian law, humanitarian assistance and refugee policy not significantly overdue?

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