"The tragedy of children" since October 7. These are the words used by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in a statement issued on November 17, to describe the war that has been going on for more than a month between Israel and Hamas. Words that resonate even more loudly on Monday, November 20, on the occasion of International Children's Rights Day.
The United Nations marked this date on the international community's calendar in the mid-twentieth century in response to two symbolic November 20s: the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (in 1959) and the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (in 1989).
The latter Convention – signed by 197 states, making it the most ratified human rights treaty in history – defines a list of children's rights including "the right to life, health, education and the right to play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence and discrimination, and to make his voice heard."
Children have been particularly exposed in the Israel-Hamas war since 7 October. Of the 240 people taken hostage by Hamas, some 40 babies and children are being held in the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli authorities, who on Monday called on X to "bring them home."
Gaza, for its part, has "become a graveyard for thousands of children," in the words of UNICEF spokesman James Elder at the end of October. The Israeli offensive has killed at least 13,300 people, including more than 5,500 children, according to the latest Hamas government figures. Jonathan Crickx, director of communications for Unicef Palestine, reports on the antenna of France 24, for his part, "4,700 Palestinian children killed" and "7,000 children injured".
"A tragedy is unfolding before our eyes," he warned, calling for "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire", as UNICEF has been doing since the beginning of the war.
France 24: The transfer of 28 premature babies from Al-Shifa hospital to Egypt on Monday is good news. What will happen to them?
Jonathan Crickx: This is very, very good news. We – UNICEF, WHO and all partners – are very happy to have been able to help get these children out. These are premature babies in care units who need electricity on a constant basis to keep their bodies at temperature. Some of them have ventilators that also require electricity. And since the hospitals in the Gaza Strip are facing a big problem of lack of electricity, it was really very important that we were able to evacuate them.
The (transfer) conditions are particularly challenging. We know the difficulties that there are in terms of movement in the Gaza Strip with the ongoing operations (Israeli army military, editor's note). It took a lot of coordination.
It's also important to see that these children will be welcomed and have a follow-up. Some of them are accompanied. For others, we don't know who their parents are. There is a whole system that is put in place to identify them, so that they have a legal guardian when they cross into Egypt, so that they can continue to take care of them once they have crossed the border.
These evacuations remain symbolic while UNICEF estimates that "the lives of one million children are hanging by a thread", i.e. nearly half of the population (2.3 millioninhabitants in total) of the Gaza Strip. What is their reality today?
Their reality is absolutely horrific. I am still in contact with a colleague of mine in Gaza who has two little girls aged 4 and 7. She explained to me that she could not provide them with normal water as they usually have. The only water (available) has a very high salinity. And so my colleague's little girls have problems with chronic diarrhea, dehydration. They are in a daily struggle to find some water and bread, and we see it more and more.
Next to that, there is the basic care. More than 7,000 children are injured, according to reports, while two-thirds of hospitals are not functioning. That is the situation they have to deal with. There are also a lot of mental health problems, lack of psychosocial follow-up, trauma, to which are obviously added the problems related to the lack of water and the lack of food.
Faced with this situation, what do you hope for?
An immediate humanitarian ceasefire. That's what we've been calling for since the beginning (of the Israel-Hamas war). In addition, there is a call for a humanitarian corridor with much more aid: water, food, medicine, medical equipment and fuel.
It is also very important to remember that there is also a call for the unconditional release of the Israeli hostages who are still being held - including children, to be precise.
The situation is absolutely terrible. More than 4,700 Palestinian children have died. And to this must be added, according to the reports that have reached us, the Israeli children who were killed in the horrific attacks in early October and those still held hostage in Gaza. For us, a child is a child and we call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of the children. This is absolutely fundamental for UNICEF.
The latest tally from Hamas' Health Ministry puts 13,300 Palestinians killed, including more than5,500 children. In view of this toll, are children not paying a heavy price in this war?
According to the figures I have, more than 4,700 Palestinian children have been killed. These numbers are beyond comprehension. Obviously, when it comes to numbers, we can't imagine the drama behind it for families.
We see absolutely unimaginable situations, with children being rescued from the rubble. We also have children whose parents we don't know, we don't even know their names. They are sometimes 2, 3 or 4 years old. They can't speak, when they can. When they are old enough to speak, they are so shocked that they can't even give their name. A catastrophe, a tragedy, is unfolding before our eyes and it must, I repeat once again, stop.
To watch the full interview conducted by Elisabeth Allain:
Casualty figures are provided by Gaza's Hamas-run Ministry of Health
The Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest in the enclave, centralizes data from all hospitals in Gaza. Administrators at the facility say they keep a record of every wounded person occupying a bed and every body arriving at the morgue.
The ministry also collects data from other sources, including the Palestine Red Crescent.
Gaza's health ministry does not say how Palestinians were killed, either by Israeli airstrikes and/or barrages or failed Palestinian rocket fire. It describes all victims as victims of "Israeli aggression" and also makes no distinction between civilians and combatants.
During the four wars and the numerous clashes between Israel and Hamas, UN agencies have regularly cited Health Ministry figures in their reports. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestine Red Crescent Society also use these figures.
In the aftermath of previous episodes of war, the United Nations Humanitarian Office published casualty figures based on its own research into medical records. The UN figures are largely in agreement with those of Gaza's Ministry of Health, with a few differences.
To read more about Gaza's Ministry of Health's assessments, click here or here.
(France 24 with AP)
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