Highest 37m children displaced worldwide in 2021: UNICEF

Natural disasters triggered the displacement of 7.3 million children in 2021.IOM

Conflict, violence and other crises left a record 36.5 million children displaced from their homes by the end of last year, the highest number recorded since the second world war.

The United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF) came up with the disclosure in a press release on Friday. It said the figure includes 13.7 million child refugees and asylum-seekers, and nearly 22.8 million, who are internally displaced due to conflict and violence.

However, not included are children displaced by climate and environmental shocks or disasters, as well as those newly displaced in 2022, including by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The record number of children displaced is a direct result of cascading crises, said UNICEF, including acute and protracted conflicts such as in Afghanistan, and fragility in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or Yemen – all exacerbated by the destructive impacts of climate change.

"We can't ignore the evidence: The number of children being displaced by conflict and crises is rapidly growing – and so is our responsibility to reach them," said UNICEF executive director, Catherine Russell.

"I hope this alarming number will move governments to prevent children from being displaced in the first place”, she added, “and when they are displaced, to ensure their access to education, protection, and other critical services that support their wellbeing and development now and in the future."

Crises like the war in Ukraine, which has caused more than two million children to flee the country and displaced three million internally since February, come on top of this record high.

Additionally, children and families are also being driven from their homes by extreme weather events, UNICEF said, such as the drought in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and severe flooding in Bangladesh, India and South Africa.

During 2021, there were 7.3 million new displacements of children as consequence of natural disasters.

The global refugee population has more than doubled in the last decade, with children making up almost half of the total.

Uprooted children – whether refugee, asylum seeker or internally displaced – can face grave risks to their well-being and safety.

This is particularly true for the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied or separated children who are at heightened risk of trafficking, exploitation, violence and abuse.

Children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.