Despite being protected under international humanitarian law (IHL), children remain particularly vulnerable in times of armed conflict. Whether they are victims of landmines, separated from their families or recruited as child soldiers, they all endure the torments of despair.
In this article, we wish to give a voice to the children victims of the horrors of war so that they can be heard. Each episode is based on a film or video available on the ICRC Audiovisual Archives portal and tells the story of a child (from their point of view, written in the first person singular) during a conflict.
Episode 1 : Nejmeh – Lebanon (2015)
« I came here as a Syrian refugee and for the past two years I have been teaching the children who live like me in this camp in Ketermaya, Lebanon. I teach them science, mathematics, English and other subjects. I adapt my lessons according to what they know. For example, just a few minutes ago you could see us all reciting the alphabet! I wish I could give them written lessons. Unfortunately, here, we don’t have any notebooks or pencils. Also, since our tent was damaged by the rain, we are outside every day, which is far from ideal. I love teaching because God rewards those who do it. Even when I don’t feel well, like today, I decide to get past the pain so that the children can forget their problems and not think about the loved ones they have lost. My name is Nejmeh, I am fourteen years old and here everyone calls me “the little girl who teaches”. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : A Syrian teenager gives lessons to refugee children in Lebanon
And find other stories similar to Nejmeh’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
So while the youngsters in the Lebanese camp keep practicing mental exercises, the Russian refugee children in the gymnasium in Tophane, on the outskirts of Constantinople, do not forget the importance of physical fitness either, as this film from 1921 shows : Les réfugiés russes de Constantinople [Gymnase russe de Top-Hané]
A Syrian teenager gives lessons to refugee children in Lebanon ; © ICRC ; Unknown ; 2015 ; V-F-CR-F-01770-A.
Episode 2 : Omer – Pakistan (1988)
« My God! I have already spent so much time in this hospital for Afghan war wounded. I ended up here after stepping on a mine, trying to return to my home village with my father. Since the operation, many men in white come to see me and ask me questions. When they change the bandage on my right leg, it hurts so much, but I don’t want to cry because I don’t want the others to laugh at me. There are also some funny machines here, some that show the inside of the body. In one picture, I was told that I could see what was left of my leg, but it was so dark… I must not have looked at it right. Some days I relive what I saw and heard in my village, that’s why in my drawings there are dead people on the ground and fire everywhere. When I was younger, we were told that where the blood of the martyrs flows, tulips will bloom. How sad they must be, those tulips. Soon I’ll be able to walk again without crutches, so my hands and arms won’t hurt so much. And I’ll go home… Home, in this refugee camp near the border. My name is Omer Khan, I am thirteen years old and I live here because the war drove me out of my home. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : The story of Omer Khan
And find other stories similar to Omer’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
The story of Omer Khan ; © ICRC ; WINIGER, Edouard ; 1988 ; V-F-CR-H-00169.
Episode 3 : Daniel – Philippines (2017)
« Three years ago, my parents were imprisoned in Samar, Philippines. I was barely three months old at the time, so I was placed in the care of my uncle, Leo. Since we never had the opportunity to visit them, we have gotten used to « talk » by phone. To tell you the truth, the first time I heard my mom’s voice, I was only able to respond through babbling, which made her cry. Since then, I’ve been practicing daily very hard with Leo to express in words what’s in my heart. Fortunately, today the ICRC was able to arrange a visit for both of us. I think everyone dreads this meeting a little bit, but once I’ll be in their arms, all dressed in white, it will be like we never left each other. My name is Daniel, I’m three years old and while I’m waiting to practice my Filipino a bit more at school, I’ll let my parents and Leo tell you my story. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : Philippines : detained couple reunited with child after three years
And find other stories similar to Daniel’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
In addition to organizing family visits, our institution also has a mandate to prevent abuse of detainees and to improve their conditions of detention. Those visits are documented in the 1978 film « Prisonniers et détenus ».
Philippines : detained couple reunited with child after three years ; © ICRC ; Unknown ; 2017 ; V-F-CR-F-02236.
Episode 4 : Abraham (1998)
« In the bush, I was trained to fight. And it is also there that I became a man. I started fighting at the age of seven, after losing my father, my mother and my sister. The one who murdered them that day, I found him and killed him. Then I fled into the bush where I was able to join a group of fighters. Our commander, the colonel Mother Blessing, gave me a war name: Hitler Killer. I don’t know what it means, but I know he likes it very much. When he saw how well I was doing, he immediately gave me a Beretta gun… my « little sister » Beretta as I call her. In the death squadron, there are over 170 of us between the ages of nine and twelve. We are always in the front line, because we are never afraid. So when the colonel tells us to do something, we do it right away. He trusts us, his « little soldiers », much more than he trusts the older ones. I’ve already killed people, ten or so… Here, I was taught that if you see bad guys around you, you have to fight. And if they come to kill you, you can shoot them. My real name is Abraham, I’m eleven years old and if I grew up so fast, that’s because I wasn’t really given a choice. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : The exploitation of violence : the child soldiers – The violence of exploitation
And find other stories similar to Abraham’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
To promote respect for international humanitarian law by condemning excessive violence in conflict zones… This is what manages to achieve « Plea for humanity », a production from 1984.
The exploitation of violence : the child soldiers – The violence of exploitation ; © ICRC, UNICEF ; MOUCHET, Louis ; 1998 ; V-F-CR-F-00492.
Episode 5 : Doaa – Gaza City (2016)
« One day, on my way to school, I found something that looked like a doll and brought it home. Even though it was as heavy as a rock, I wanted to play with it. While I was holding it in my right hand, my brother heard the sound of an explosion. He immediately took me to the hospital where I underwent several surgeries. Back home, I had to learn to write with my left hand, which was difficult. Since the accident, when we have guests, I hide in my room. And the few times I go out, I always cover my hand with white tape. Fortunately, the ICRC has informed my family that the orthopaedic centre in Gaza City will provide me with a suitable prosthesis. My name is Doaa, I am eleven years old and I am looking forward to being able to use nail polish on both my hands again. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : Gaza Strip : Doaa, regaining childhood innocence
And find other stories similar to Doaa’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
For budgetary reasons and long-term maintenance, the manufacture of prostheses and orthoses must always take into account the needs and means of each individual, as shown in « To walk, again », a production from 1986.
Gaza Strip : Doaa, regaining childhood innocence ; © ICRC ; SERRANO REDONDO, Jesus Andres ; ABU GHOSH, Fattoum ; 2016 ; V-F-CR-F-01606.
Episode 6 : Jacqueline – Rwanda (2000)
« It’s official, we are leaving today! My little brother and I are among the twenty unaccompanied Rwandan children who are about to be reunited with their loved ones. At the « Don Bosco » center in Goma, ICRC staff take the opportunity to give us news about our big brother. Since our parents died four years ago, he has become the head of the family. With our bundle in hand, we board the vehicle with a red cross on the hood. Around us, the other children sing to make the separation less difficult. One last look… one last « goodbye »… and the convoy starts. After several years of absence, it feels very strange to be back home at last. Although the trip lasts four hours, we never tire of admiring the landscape. At the end of the day, we finally arrive at the small family house where our big brother is waiting for us. Even though there is a lot of restraint in my gestures, my eyes sparkle with joy. As I am about to shake his hand, he takes another step in my direction and hugs me. My name is Jacqueline, I am sixteen years old and back home, in the calm, we are slowly getting to know each other again. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : Goma et Kigali : le retour des enfants non accompagnés
And find other stories similar to Jacqueline’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
In 1984, between Cambodia and Thailand, other « forgotten border people » seek to restore family links following the massive influx of people five years earlier : The border people : aspects of ICRC action on the Thai-Cambodian border in 1984
Goma et Kigali : le retour des enfants non accompagnés ; © ICRC ; MONTAVON, Henri ; 2000 ; V-F-CR-F-00628-B.
Episode 7 : Yousra – Syria (2016)
« She and I have always known each other. It’s not so surprising since we’re about the same age. It is this closeness that has undoubtedly led us to build this solid and lasting relationship. Today, I can hardly imagine my life without her. However, when she first arrived in Aleppo, she made many people around me sad. I was told that my family even tried to escape from her, but it was all in vain. I and my friends Esra, Ramez and Yusef have never stopped having fun though. This afternoon, there is even a video camera that’s here specially to film her, so we take the opportunity to laugh together, run around and grimace with her. It must be said that she attracts the eyes of the whole world, but for some reason that still escapes me, no one envies us. My name is Yousra, I am six years old and the war and I have been inseparable for as long as I can remember. »
Rediscover this story in our archives : Yousra and friends playing in Aleppo
And find other stories similar to Yousra’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
In this video editing from the 1950s, the devastation caused by war is presented without filter and affects all populations : Divers conflits des années 1950 : images de sources diverses [Aide à la Croix-Rouge]
Yousra and friends playing in Aleppo ; © ICRC ; NICHOLAS, Christopher ; TARABISHI, Sana ; 2016 ; V-F-CR-F-01666-B.
Episode 8 : Ethiopia (1985)
« When I first arrived at the center, I was given a bracelet with an identification number, my height and my degree of malnutrition. Since then, I have been coming here every day, as this is a necessary condition for me to get better. They say that a malnourished child is often a child with no appetite, so my mom stays patient and focused during my meals. She uses a spoon and enriched milk to feed me properly. That’s right! Baby bottles are not allowed here, which makes me and the other children very sad. But since my condition is already improving, I am also being gently introduced to cereals and vegetables and generally speaking, I notice that the food I can eat with my fingers always tastes better. However, it is only once I have regained enough strength that I will finally be able to leave the center for good. Until then, my name remains a four-digit identifier, my weight and height are just as important as my age, and once I am outside, it’s imperative that I have access to the food I need to survive. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : A feeding-center in Ethiopia
And find other stories similar to those of the children at the center, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
Filmed in 1968 in Nigeria, it is through equally heartbreaking images that the film « Biafra » shows the harsh reality of a clinic for the wounded, burn victims and severely malnourished children.
A feeding-center in Ethiopia ; © ICRC ; BASTIAN, Jean ; 1985 ; V-F-CR-F-00007.
Episode 9 : María – Colombia (2015)
« In Medellín, there is constant danger in the park, on the way to school and even at home. That’s why I decided to join the « Education Brigades ». Our goal is to change mentalities and offer an alternative to violence. With the help of the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross, we train youngsters in schools in fundamental values such as respect, tolerance and solidarity. Now, for instance, Professor Rafael is teaching a class the right thing to do in the event of a shooting. Even though some students are less receptive than others, I think it’s great to be able to help as many people as possible. My name is María, I am sixteen years old and to fight against violence, I teach young people like me the importance of communication through dialogue. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : Colombia : the Education Brigades, an alternative to violence
And find other stories similar to María’s, as our film archives have been documenting the ICRC’s humanitarian work around the world for a century.
In order to illustrate the essential rules of international humanitarian law (IHL), it is in a setting much more abstract that children « play at war » in « Pax », a film produced in 1973.
Colombia : the Education Brigades, an alternative to violence ; © ICRC ; REVOL, Didier ; 2015 ; V-F-CR-F-01312-D.
Episode 10 : Tihomir – Bosnia-Herzegovina (1997)
« On the day of the accident, my friends and I had gone swimming. On the way back, we ventured a little further than usual. What we didn’t know was that the whole field was mined. A simple misstep and my life changed forever. I jumped on the first mine and the blast threw me on a second one. I lost both my hands, two toes of my right foot and I also broke my leg. Since this tragic experience, I have been trying to adapt to my new life. Although it’s not easy for either of us, my father is doing everything he can to ensure that I have a happy adolescence. I can count on him to feed me, dress me and even bathe me. When I feel the need, he is also there for moral support. I spend the rest of my days playing football with my friends. My injuries have made them more aware of the danger of mines here in Dobrinja. My name is Tihomir, I’m fifteen years old and I pray for today’s minefields to become the children’s playgrounds of the past again. »
Discover the entire story in our archives : Bosnia : front-line boys
Bosnia : front-line boys ; © ICRC, Azimuts ; PAGONIS, Jennifer ; 1997 ; V-F-CR-F-00369.