Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The War in Ukraine is taking a huge toll on children and women, as well in terms of casualties. At least 168 children have been killed since the beginning of the war.
We cannot tacitly accept this brutal violence against children at the hands of adults.
The images of civilians brutally killed at the hands of the Russian army are still very vivid in our minds and will forever taint our European history, marking one of the lowest and darkest moments. The images of pediatric hospitals being bombed and other civilian targets are an indelible memento on how this war has already crossed any possible red line, should there be any such line to start with.
There is a real humanitarian tragedy unfolding before our eyes, right at our doorsteps. According to the latest UNICEF report, since the beginning of the war, over 3.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine, with women and children accounting for 90% of the fleeing population. Within Ukraine, there are already more than 10 million internally displaced people, once again, most of them are children.
Behind these numbers, there is a human face, a sister, a brother, a daughter, and a son. A life tragically cut short, children forever deprived of their childhood
After the unspeakable atrocities of the second world war, we have grown accustomed to the expression “never again”. We strenuously hoped we will never witness again violence and brutality in our European soil, that no child will ever have to experience a war.
Children are those who are paying the highest toll in this unjustified war and they will face enormous consequences for years to come for the psychological trauma they are experiencing.
We have a duty to protect them, if we fail children, we fail our societies.
Unfortunately, traffickers and other organised crime always thrive during crises, and as despicable vultures, they try to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of children, exploiting their suffering to their own benefit.
We have seen this in our Union before, when already back in 2016 Europol released their report flagging that 10 thousand migrant children were going missing once they reached Europe.
Where are these children? As a mother of two children, I cannot fathom how their parents must be thinking when their child is missing. What if it was your child going missing? As co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights, I have worked extensively on strengthening the EU unified 116 000 hotline number to report missing children, as well as to ensure keep a record of these children and coordinate efforts to find them.
One single child going missing is already one too many and as legislators, we are called upon to make choices and take decisions that protect the most vulnerable of our societies.
We cannot let this happen in our Union, and anywhere else for that matter. It is of paramount importance to build a robust registration system at the border, where we also take fingerprints of children. With such an unprecedented number of children crossing the border, we need this is the only way to ensure all children are accounted for and enter the national child protection system.
The EU is now called to show leadership to address the specific plight of Ukrainian children, making sure we are leaving no one behind. It is our duty to provide these children with concrete answers, to build a system in which children are properly protected and accurately heard.
There is an entire generation of children on the line and we need to join forces – from policy-makers, legislators (at all levels), and civil society organizations – to ensure these children are given a real chance to excel in life and reach their full potential.