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Children are dying. Do definitions really matter?

The war in Gaza needs a new framework

By G. A. BoteroPublished 4 months ago 3 min read
Children are dying. Do definitions really matter?
Photo by Jakob Rubner on Unsplash

Children die.

As much as we hate to know this or even hate to see it written, children die daily for no other reason than that they live in a world with adults. Wars, both past and present, are no different.

I first learned about the child death toll while I was researching the topic of the war in Rwanda for a college paper. That war opened my eyes to how adults use children as pawns in conflict; killed because of the labels adults apply to them when they are born (religion, ethnicity, gender, tribe, and the list goes on), killed to torture parents because of who they are, and used as child soldiers to kill other children (and adults too).

The genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi resulted in ~1,074,000 deaths, of which children and young people under the age of 24 made up 54% of the deaths. Many of the dead found in mass graves were under 15 years of age. According to one account of one mass grave, bodies exhumed by Physicians for Human Rights at a mass grave in Kibuye province found 44 percent of the bodies were of children under the age of fifteen and 31 percent were under ten. Rwanda happened in 1994. Here we are, 2023, still witnessing children used and discarded like chess pieces.


Genocide - the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.

It is not surprising that children are the principal victims of genocide. If children are indeed the future, which they are, then by definition, the targeting of children eliminates that group's chances of surviving in the future. With an estimated 18,000 dead in Gaza, of which almost 8,000 are children, and 90% of the population displaced, are either seeing the beginning of a genocide or a very violent forced displacement?


Forced Displacement - displaced "as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations".

Maybe we need a new word to describe the situation in Gaza. We need a new term for the deliberate thinning of the population and its infrastructure to force a displacement.

Some may argue that we don't need a new word, that genocide is indeed happening in Gaza. The problem with that is that genocide has to take into account the intent of the action - the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group. In Gaza, we have the deliberate killing of a large number of people, but is the intent to eliminate Palestinians as a group? Some may argue yes, but without a clear, knowable intent, the Israeli government can deny it, and the U.S. government can ignore it.

We know from history that killing a large number of citizens does not make the murderous act a genocide. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed many civilians, but the intention was not to eliminate the Japanese people or Japan. That is why we don't refer to that event as genocide.

This might seem an academic argument, and it is, but if we are to hold current and future governments responsible for killing civilians, we need to define the event that makes it a crime. In a world where criminals go free on legal definitions, the world community needs to update and define what we don't consider appropriate in war, and that includes thinning a population rather than trying to eliminate it.

Regardless of what we call it, the human toll and child toll are the same, but a definition can result in accountability to those that murdered them.

World HistoryPerspectivesEvents

About the Creator

G. A. Botero

I have a million bad ideas, until a good one surfaces. Poetry, short stories, essays.

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