On March 19th, 2021, UNICEF released a statement addressing the humanitarian crisis within the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Executive Director Henrietta Fore opened with an acknowledgement of the ongoing conflict and children’s need to access basic social services. This statement follows a series of articles published by UNICEF, highlighting the reports of violence and human rights violations within the region. There have been many significant reports of attacks against civilians based on their religion and ethnicity. Further, arbitrary arrests, killings, rape, displacement of populations and destruction of property in various parts of the country have been present within parts of the state which mainly include, the Tigray, Amhara, Somali, and Oromo, ethnic groups
The ongoing conflict is between The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling political party of the Tigray region and the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), commissioned by state rule. Following the postponement of a general election to an undetermined date, the conflict arose between the two fronts when the TPLF ran an unauthorised election defying an order by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has ruled Ethiopia since 2018. This resulted in an alleged TPLF attack against ENDF bases on November 4th, 2020. Following this, a series of attacks and conflicts ensued. On November 9th, 2020, 600 civilians were killed in a genocidal attack in Mai Kadra, in the North of the state. The conflict has only escalated since.
The violence within the state has resulted in mass killings of men, women and children. In November, at least 20 children were murdered within the Maryam Dengelat Church along with an estimated 80 adults. Furthermore, the war has resulted in the devastation of all social and educational programs within the region. While most areas within Ethiopia have allowed children to return to school, following COVID-19 closures, destruction has left 1.3 million children without education in Tigray. Further, civilians who have been unable to leave the area, face massive health and safety risks. As a result of the violence and looting present, 60 per cent of health care facilities are not operational within the Tigray region.
A key area of concern expressed by UNICEF is the physical and medical safety of children within the region. As the conflict has lasted for several months, and has expanded into various regions within the state, many families and children have become displaced, and are forced to evacuate to camps for safety. Most displaced civilians enter camps which have limited infrastructure to provide the amount of support needed. Reports of food shortages and limited medical supplies have contributed to an increase in disease, such as cholera and diarrhea, which is on the rise within these communities. Additionally, the rise of food shortages further increases the presence of malnourishment in children. As malnourishment is an already present issue within the continent, the rise of conflict and destruction of social services has only exacerbated the issue of children’s health and wellbeing.
The statement produced by UNICEF, provides various calls to action which directly target the security of children within the Tigray region. It states that “Humanitarian aid alone is not enough.” An increase in awareness, protection and social service must be made to combat the risks and vulnerability of children in conflict zones. In doing so, “All parties must ensure that children are protected from harm at all times.”