MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
SA children’s advocates call for Gaza ceasefire — ‘we side with the children not the guns’
More than 3,500 children have been killed in Israel and Gaza since 7 October, the vast majority in the bombardment of the Gaza Strip. In the face of this pedicide more than 500 children’s advocates in South Africa have issued a call for peace and respect for human rights amid the escalating conflict in the Middle East.
At the weekend, Save the Children, an international NGO, reported: “The number of children reported killed in Gaza in just three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019.”
According to the NGO, “since 7 October, more than 3,257 children have been reported killed, including at least 3,195 in Gaza, 33 in the West Bank and 29 in Israel, according to the ministries of health in Gaza and Israel respectively”.
That figure has since risen to 3,457.
It is estimated that a child is losing their life in the indiscriminate bombardment every 10 minutes. This is despite calls by UN agencies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, “on all actors to safeguard civilians, schools and hospitals in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. We reiterate that the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States parties and all actors to respect and to ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict with regard to children. The Convention also aims to ensure the highest level of protection for children.”
Children’s health and rights advocates speak out
In response to this growing tragedy more than 550 child health advocates and practitioners in South Africa, who have been at the forefront of advocacy for children’s rights here, have signed a statement calling on the international community “to broker an immediate ceasefire and seek a lasting solution to the conflict that brings peace and stability to the region, and that safeguards the future of its children”.
The signatories to the statement include vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town Max Price, emeritus professors Marian Jacobs, Louis Reynolds and Sameer Rahim from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at UCT; professors Haroon Saloojee and Ashraf Coovadia from Wits; Professor Mark Tomlinson from Stellenbosch University; Professor Linda-Gail Bekker from the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre; and Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, the co-director of Caprisa.
Read the petition and full list of signatories here.
According to Lori Lake of the Children’s Institute, “many people have been feeling deeply distressed and powerless to address the escalating conflict in the Middle East, so as child rights advocates and health workers we wanted to create a space where people could raise their concerns and speak into the silence”.
“We recognise that this is an emotive and potentially divisive issue, so we have also sought to maintain a balanced view in our call for peace, humanitarian aid and respect for the rule of law.”
The statement reads: “As mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children, we acknowledge the pain and suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians in response to this unspeakable trauma and loss of life. Yet we also recognise how these feelings of pain and anger can lead us to lash out blindly in ways that serve only to fuel an unending cycle of violence and revenge.
“As healthcare workers, we condemn the killing and injury of innocent women, men and children. No person – and especially no child – should have to experience the physical, emotional and psychological trauma of war and violence.
“We also abhor the devastating blast at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza – which claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent women, men, children and healthcare workers seeking or providing medical care or sheltering in what was supposed to be a safe zone protected under international humanitarian law. Any loss of innocent life is unconscionable, especially the killing of healthcare workers working to save lives.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub
The statements calls for “the immediate cessation of hostilities; a commitment by all parties to respect and uphold international law – including the protection of children and health facilities; the release of hostages; the immediate restoration of clean running water, food, medical supplies and electricity to the people of Gaza; and unrestricted access to humanitarian aid and medical care.
“We also call on the broader international community to draw on their logic, reason and common sense, and to act morally – with a renewed sense of urgency – to broker an immediate ceasefire and seek a lasting solution to the conflict that brings peace and stability to the region, and that safeguards the future of its children.
“This requires a fair and independent legal process that acknowledges and addresses the deep historic causes of the current crisis; and holds those guilty of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable for their actions.”
Palliative care and access t0 essential medicines for pain relief
The statement is one among many being issued by civil society organisations in South Africa and internationally, including by organisations affiliated to Defend our Democracy calling for a ceasefire and an end to the horror being inflicted by the bombardment of Gaza.
However, some organisations are also volunteering practical ways to bolster humanitarian efforts.
For example, a range of palliative care organisations, led by PallCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies) issued a call regarding “access to controlled medicines in conflict settings”. Among the signatories are the Association of Palliative Care Centres (APCC) and Palliative Care for Children South Africa (Patch).
The statement (which you can read here) “supports calls for a ceasefire and the recent statements by humanitarian and UN agencies on the urgent need for unimpeded aid access for the civilian population that includes sufficient fuel for medical facilities, water purification, food and nutritional supplements”.
It calls on the WHO and humanitarian agencies to:
- “Include adequate supplies of oral and injectable morphine, and other pain-relieving medicines listed in the WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines in their humanitarian aid response packages;
- “Ensure an adequate supply of essential medicines for surgery and anaesthesia;
- “Provide all aid and healthcare workers with guidelines on the safe use and distribution of these essential medicines;
- “Work with receiving authorities to ensure that controlled medicines are not removed from the emergency kits; and
- “Include paediatric formulations of essential medicines for children.”
The signatory organisations say they offer their “skills and expertise in pain and symptom management and palliative care as a resource for our colleagues working in humanitarian settings”. DM