A shortfall of nearly $650 million in child protection funding is leaving nearly 18 million vulnerable children and caregivers living in the world’s worst humanitarian crises at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, said Save the Children.
As world leaders gather for the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict, Save the Children with partners launched a report,, showing that in many countries where war and violence persist funding is not keeping pace with the rising numbers of families and children at risk.
In 2022, around 22.4 million children and their caregivers in most need were targeted for child protection services requiring funding of nearly $795 million. However, governments only found the money for 19% of this, creating a funding vacuum of over $646 million, and leaving nearly 18 million boys, girls and caregivers without protection and assistance.
Child protection services are critical to keep children safe from harm, particularly children living in war zones or conflict-affected countries. These services protect children from grave violations that occur during war, including recruitment and use by armed groups, child marriage, sexual violence, and killing and maiming. Money can also be used to support caregivers looking after unaccompanied children, or poverty-stricken families struggling to care for their children.
If this trend of underfunding is allowed to continue, the report predicts there will be a $1 billion shortfall for child protection in conflict zones by 2026.
This growing funding deficit comes as more and more children are living in areas of armed conflict. Save the Children’s annual estimates of children living in armed conflict calculated by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) based on conflict data from the Uppsala Data Program (UCDP) show that in 2022 about 468 million children – more than 1 out of 6 – were living in a conflict zone. This number has almost doubled since the mid-1990s.
There has also been a jump in the number of boys and girls living on the frontline in the world’s deadliest countries. Last year, 250 million children lived within 50 kms of a conflict zone in countries where more than 1,000 people died in battle within one year – up 12% from over 220 million children two years ago.
Failure to protect the most vulnerable children in the world’s worst battle zones underpins countries’ failure to meet one of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the promotion of peace. The SDGs were adopted in 2015 but since then the number of children living in conflict zones has spiked nearly 28%, jumping to 468 million last year.
Speaking from the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict, Save the Children International CEO Inger Ashing said:
“We are witnessing a child protection crisis that will have implications for generations to come. We hope the Oslo Conference will be a game changer for the protection of children in armed conflict. Countries must get back on track; they must ramp up their efforts to prevent grave violations against children, help boys and girls that have survived war, and commit to lasting, sustainable peace.
“With proper funding, the impact of violence on a child’s life can be reduced. A child living in a conflict zone can’t learn effectively; they are at risk of getting separated from their family during hostilities; they are also targets for traffickers and those forcing children into child labour. Putting in place strong child protection programmes will help boys and girls living with war to learn, develop and thrive – ultimately, it will have a direct impact on our shared peace and security.”
Save the Children’s research also shows that in Europe, the number of children exposed to conflict quadrupled in just one year, from two to nine million children, fuelled by the war in Ukraine.
Africa remained the region with the highest total of children living in conflict zones – around 183 million. West and Central Africa is also the region with the highest number of children recruited by armed groups.
Junior*, 17, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, spent eight months as a child solider in an armed group in 2018. At the age of 12, he was separated from his family due to violence perpetrated by armed groups in his community:
“Friends convinced me to join an armed vigilante group to defend our community from attacks by other armed groups… I had no place to sleep and I didn’t eat well. I was in charge of looking for food for the fighters. Often, I was forced to go into the city to steal, I’d only get rest after providing sustenance for our chief.
“It was hard for me. I was a slave and experienced a life of servitude…There were three boys and one girl in our group. The girl was required to sleep with our chief every day… Twice, I went into battle against other armed groups. I couldn’t handle this violence and these atrocities. Luckily for me, I made it out alive.”
After eight months, Junior* was freed by a project run by a Save the Children partner organisation. Since then, he has benefitted from psychological support, and found a passion as a tailor.
As in previous years, the Middle East continued to have the highest share of children living in conflict zones relative to the total child population – 39% of children in the region, or one in three.
Children across 10 conflict affected countries have shared their messages and calls to action to world leaders ahead of the Oslo Conference. One child, 10-year-old *Maha from Yemen, was injured by a landmine explosion while collecting wood with her sister:
“We finished collecting the wood and were about to return home…There was a big stump that I wanted to take with me. I pulled it, and an explosion occurred. I was unconscious. I knew nothing and wasn’t even aware of my wounded eyes.
“I wish no one else had to endure what I experienced. If I had a superpower, I would put an end to the war. I would make the city safe – the entire city – to ensure that nobody is harmed.”
Child protection remains woefully underfunded within overall humanitarian responses – but the cost is not insurmountable. The requirements for child protection represent only 2% of humanitarian requirements in countries where children are in most need.
Save the Children is calling on world leaders, donors, members of the UN, and NGOs to transform this raised awareness into collective action and work together to prioritise child protection funding in humanitarian responses —and to support children impacted by conflict, including those who are recruited.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.