World Children’s Day is meant to be an annual celebration, a time to promote children’s rights, safety, education, health and happiness, according to the United Nations.
But this year, the day has arrived against the brutal backdrop of a war that has left children buried under the rubble of airstrikes, held hostage in the hands of terrorists, dying in besieged hospitals, and bearing witness to extreme violence that no child should ever have to see.
Israel marked World Children’s Day Monday by posting the images of 40 children who were among the more than 200 hostages taken to Gaza during Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, most of whose fates remain unknown.
“Look at each and every one of their faces,” the Israeli X post said. “These are the babies, toddlers and children being held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza.”
At least one of those children, a 3-year-old who was orphaned on Oct. 7, is an American citizen.
At least 29 children were killed on October 7. And last week a child was born to a hostage held by Hamas.
Al Jazeera offered a similar message in a piece about World Children’s Day posted under the banner “Know Their Names.” An informational graphic listed the names of more than 2,000 Palestinian children killed since Israel’s retaliatory strikes began.
That long list is believed to account for only half the toll. Israel’s war has killed at least 5,500 children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, figures that the UN says are accurate. Another 1,800 children are missing, many believed to have perished under the rubble of air strikes. And 9,000 more have been injured.
Nearly 30 premature babies were evacuated from Gaza’s Shifa Hospital on Sunday, days after Israeli forces raided the complex. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders says that Gaza medical teams have begun using an acronym for several arriving patients: “WCNSF” – which stands for “wounded child, no surviving family.”
According to Jason Lee, Save the Children’s director for the Palestinian territories, children account for two of five civilian deaths in Gaza, and one child is killed every 10 minutes during the conflict.
Beyond the dead and wounded, children on both sides are suffering other forms of trauma.
Dozens of young children in southern Israel saw their parents murdered, or taken away by Hamas gunmen.
Among the captives taken on Oct. 7 was Abigail Edan, a 3-year-old whose parents were killed during the Hamas raid on the Israeli kibbutz of Kfar Azza. She ran for cover, and was taken in by another mother and her three children, according to the Associated Press.
All five were taken hostage by Hamas.
“She’s a baby, just 3 years old, and she’s all alone,” Abigail’s aunt, Tal Edan, told the news agency. “Maybe she was with a neighbor, but I don’t know if they’re still together. She has no one.”
Other hostages include the sisters Ella and Dafna Elyakim, 8 and 15, respectively. They were captured during a visit to their father, Noam, who lived on another kibbutz near the Gaza border with his partner and their son, Tomer, 17.
All five appeared on a video released by Hamas; later, the bodies of Noam, his partner, and their son were discovered near the Gaza border, according to the Times of Israel.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza have lost family members. And nearly every time an Israeli air assault has struck Gaza, children have gathered near the scene, witnessing the aftermath up close.
The long-term effects of these traumas are devastating — and they can last a lifetime, according to studies examining the fallout of wars and violence on children.
A 2022 Save the Children study of children in Gaza reported profound trauma from prior conflicts in the territory. Some 80% of children showed signs of emotional distress; more than half had experienced suicidal thoughts.
That Gaza study, conducted well before the current war, found that the “psychosocial wellbeing of children, young people and their caregivers [had] declined dramatically to alarming levels.”
The child survivors of today’s war, Save the Children has warned, “will suffer from serious longer term mental health impacts – they’ve never emerged unscathed.”
In Israel, almost 90 percent of children are reportedly seeking treatment related to the war.
“We’re witnessing a tsunami of anxiety symptoms among children,” Israeli Pediatric Association chairman Professor Zachi Grossman told Ynet. “It’s certainly something we haven’t seen in the past. The recognition is beginning to dawn that this issue will be much more prolonged than before.”