Saying that landmines are a deadly attraction for children, UNICEF has called for all countries that care about children to stop producing landmines.
Long after wars are over, millions of antipersonnel landmines and other explosive remnants of conflict pose a vicious threat to children, who are being injured, killed and orphaned by them.
"Landmines are a deadly attraction for children, whose innate curiosity and need for play often lure them directly into harm's way," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, attending the first World Summit on a Mine Free World in Nairobi. "Countries have a moral responsibility to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty and rid the world of these devastating weapons."
Over 80 percent of the 15,000 to 20,000 landmine victims each year are civilians, and at least one in five are children, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The deadly legacy of landmines far outlasts the conflicts that that gave rise to them. Among the most contaminated countries are Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Colombia, and Angola.
In Asia, for instance, are some of the most heavily mine-affected countries in the world. Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) are a danger to children in nearly half of all villages in Cambodia and nearly one-quarter of all villages in Lao People's Democratic Republic, Bellamy said. Up to 800,000 metric tons of UXO and 3.5 million landmines still cover Viet Nam, where over 100,000 people have been killed or injured since 1975.
Children are at particular risk of injury and death from landmines and other explosive remnants of war because their small size, unfamiliar shape, and colors can make them look like toys. Refugees and displaced children returning home after war are in particular danger of landmines because they are most likely to be unaware of the dangers of playing in or traversing hazardous areas.
"The cost of playing too close to a landmine is brutal," Bellamy said, citing such things as the loss of limbs, blindness, deafness, and injuries to the genital area as some of the injuries landmines inflict on children.
In part because they are physically smaller than adults, children are more likely than adults to die from landmine injuries. An estimated 85 percent of child victims of landmines die before reaching the hospital, Bellamy said. In many cases, landmine injuries occur far from home and without a parent or caregiver's knowledge.
And when treatment is available, the cost can be prohibitive for poor families, particularly because children need more care than adults. As they grow, new prostheses need to be fitted regularly and a child survivor may have to undergo several amputations.
Without adequate medical treatment, children injured by landmines are often pulled out of school, limiting their opportunities for socialization and education. The discrimination they face limits their future prospects for education, employment or marriage. They are often perceived as a burden to their families.
"Landmines orphan children," Bellamy said. "When mothers are maimed or killed, children are less likely to receive adequate nutrition, to be immunized or to be protected from exploitation. When fathers fall victim to landmines, children are often forced out of school and into work to supplement family income."
Since the Mine Ban Treaty went into force five years ago, 144 states have ratified the treaty, which prohibits signatories from using, stockpiling, producing or transferring landmines. Producing one landmine costs $3, yet once in the ground it can cost more than $1,000 to find and destroy, according to the ICBL.
Despite progress, some of the largest holders of landmines -- Russia, China, India and the United States -- have yet to commit themselves to the Mine Ban Treaty.
Bellamy called on these countries to join the Mine Ban Treaty, immediately cease production and do more to assist those whose lives have been disrupted by landmines.
"Landmines, meant to be used against soldiers in war, are devastating the lives of children at peace," Bellamy added.