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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Over 20,000 Children Missing in Gaza, With 'Unknown Number' in Mass Graves: Report

"No parent should have to dig through rubble or mass graves to try and find their child's body," said the Save the Children's regional director for the Middle East.

Image via the Palestinian People's Party


By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams


The humanitarian group Save the Children estimated Monday that around 21,000 kids are missing in the Gaza Strip as Israel's military continues its assault on the enclave, reducing much of the Palestinian territory to rubble.


Roughly 4,000 kids are likely buried under that debris, according to Save the Children, while at least 17,000 are unaccompanied, an "unknown number" are in mass graves, and others have been "detained and forcibly transferred out of Gaza, their whereabouts unknown to their families amidst reports of ill-treatment and torture."


A child protection specialist with Save the Children said that the group finds more unaccompanied children every day in Gaza, where parents and entire families have been wiped out by Israel's relentless bombing campaign and ground invasion.


"We work through partners to identify separated and unaccompanied children and trace their families, but there are no safe facilities for them—there is no safe place in Gaza," said the Save the Children specialist. "Besides, reuniting them with family members is difficult when ongoing hostilities restrict our access to communities, and constantly force families to move."


"Neighbors and extended family members who have taken in lone children are struggling to meet their basic needs, such as shelter, food, and water," they added. "Many are with strangers—or completely alone—increasing the risk of violence, abuse exploitation, and neglect."


More than 14,000 children have been killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip since October 7, and many others have experienced devastating psychological and physical trauma, including the loss of limbs. Dozens of children have also been starved to death in recent months as Israel's blockade hinders the flow of lifesaving humanitarian assistance.


Conditions for children have further deteriorated since Israel's invasion of Rafah, which has forced roughly a million people to flee the city. Last month, Israeli forces used U.S.-made bombs in an attack on a Rafah camp sheltering displaced people, killing dozens—including women and children. The United Nations Human Rights Office said that infants were "torn apart" in the attack and people were "trapped inside burning plastic tents, leading to a horrific casualty toll."


Save the Children stressed Monday that its count of Gaza's missing kids is far from conclusive, given the difficulty of collecting accurate information in areas under near-constant attack. The group noted that "confirming identification of a body by the next of kin is almost impossible when whole families have been wiped out and entry restrictions mean the equipment and experts needed cannot get in."


Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children's regional director for the Middle East, said that "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 and find their child's body. No child should be alone, unprotected in a war zone. No child should be detained or held hostage," said Stoner. "Children who are missing but living are vulnerable, face grave protection risks, and must be found. They must be protected and reunited with their families. For the children who have been killed, their deaths must be formally marked, their families informed, burial rites respected, and accountability sought."


"As many have pointed out, Gaza has become a graveyard for children, with thousands of others missing, their fates unknown," he added. "There must be an independent investigation and those responsible must be held accountable. We desperately need a cease-fire to find and support the missing children who have survived, and to prevent more families from being destroyed."


Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.


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