More than 20,000 children missing in Gaza, report says

Gaza has become ‘a graveyard for children’, Save the Children’s regional director says

Palestinian children sit at the edge of a crater after a recent Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis. Photograph: Jehad Alshrafi/AP

An estimated 21,000 children are missing in the Gaza war, many torn from their families, crushed by collapsed buildings, detained, disappeared or buried in unmarked graves, according to a report by the UK-based charity Save the Children.

In the report published on Monday, the charity said “at least 17,000 children are believed to be unaccompanied and separated and approximately 4,000 are under the rubble, with an unknown number also in mass graves”. Some had been “forcibly disappeared”, including children detained and taken to unknown locations in Israel where there had been “reports of ill-treatment and torture”, it said.

The group’s child protection teams working in Gaza were reporting that the flight of one million Palestinians from Israel’s ongoing Rafah offensive had increased cases of separation and worsened the strain on families and communities caring for lost children.

A protection specialist said lost children were found daily and “every day it is harder to support them”, to trace their families or to lodge them in safe facilities. Neighbours and extended family members were struggling to meet the needs of children they were hosting, the report said. Many children were alone or with strangers, risking “violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect”.


Save the Children’s regional director, Jeremy Stoner, said: “Families are tortured by the uncertainty of the whereabouts of their loved ones. No parent should have to dig through rubble or mass graves to try to find their child’s body. No child should be alone, unprotected in a war zone.

“As many have pointed out,” he said, “Gaza has become a graveyard for children, with thousands of others missing, their fates unknown. There must be an independent investigation and those responsible must be held accountable.”

In a report released on Tuesday, the UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) monitoring system said 20 per cent of Gaza’s population – 495,000 people – were “facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity” caused by “an extreme lack of food, starvation and exhaustion”. Half of those affected were likely to be children as they comprise 50 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.

The situation improved during March and April when food deliveries increased but after hostiles intensified in recent weeks, the IPC said, “a high risk of famine persists across the whole of the Gaza Strip as long as conflict continues and humanitarian access is restricted”.

The Israeli government press office did not reply to The Irish Times request for comment on the Save the Children report.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times