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Child war deaths top 1.5m

More than 1.5 million children have been killed in wars worldwide in the last decade, and four million have suffered agonising injuries from bombs, bullets, landmines, chemical weapons or machete attacks.

Nine out of 10 people killed or injured in war are civilians - many of them children. Hundreds of thousands of children have been forced to become soldiers, while 10 million carry the emotional scars of wartime experience. These and other appalling statistics are outlined in a hard-hitting Save the Children report, Children at War, launched last week by Terry Waite.

The former Beirut hostage said one of the worst aspects of modern warfare was the wide range of deadly weapons which were designed to maim, and were even disguised as toys. "It is said that in Angola there are as many mines as there are inhabitants. There are some people who feel the situation is hopeless, and I can understand that view, but who would have thought that South Africa would have changed so tremendously? The lesson to draw is that you should never give up hope," he said.

Save the Children works in war-torn countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique and Angola by offering counselling to children suffering psychological trauma, Mr Waite added. The organisation also helps to reunite families.

Mike Aaronson, Save the Children's overseas director, said the aim of the report was to raise consciousness and hammer home the message to governments and the United Nations about the need for political solutions to prevent war.

"We want to try and describe as graphically as possible the real nature and extent of children's suffering. This isn't easy because as the suffering is so horrendous it is very hard to take on board," he said.

Child psychiatrist Dr Naomi Richman has worked with traumatised children in Mozambique, where an estimated 5,000 families have been reunited since 1988. She said: "If children don't have a family, they feel they have no future. War also distorts children's values so they learn not to trust anyone and can become bitter, distraught and withdrawn, or angry and violent."

She has been to Mozambique assisting child war victims. "I have frequently been impressed to find teachers still teaching in the most appalling conditions in bombed-out schools, with no books or paper. The whole fabric of society is falling apart around them, but they recognise the importance of bringing some much-needed normality to children's lives," she said.

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