Ethiopia Tigray crisis: Impact on Children

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding” and thousands have been fleeing the fighting.

By Constance Ndeleko

The conflict spilling out beyond Ethiopian boarders has seen more than 25,000 people flee to Sudan since the fights began and half of them are children.

The conflict is rooted in a long-standing tension between powerful regional party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s central government has paralyzed normalcy in the lives of people and has influenced and adverse impact in children.

Fighting broke out on 4 November after Ethiopia’s central government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party which controls Tigray, of holding an illegal election and attacking a military base to steal weapons. The TPLF has denied the attack. (BBC)

Despite the worldwide health crisis, children in this region have been forced to experience the worst atrocities forcing them to flee from the conflict zone.

Tigray authorities had said 100,000 civilians had been displaced during fighting in the northern region and called for urgent humanitarian assistance.


The unfortunate turn of events has been occurring since the beginning of November:

November 4, 2020: Tigray regional forces launch surprise attack- Security forces loyal to the TPLF unexpectedly attack the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle. Several people are killed. The TPLF claims the strike was carried out in “self-defense.”

November 6, 2020: Abiy government launches counter-airstrike Abiy confirms his government launched an airstrike against Tigray forces, destroying many rockets and other weapons. This forced South Sudan to close its boarders with Ethiopia.

November 7, 2020: Parliament declares Tigrays government illegal. During an emergency session, Ethiopia’s parliament deems the Tigray government illicit and votes to form an interim government for the northern region.

November 9, 2020: Mai Kadra massacre Against the backdrop of ongoing battles between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray forces, up to 500 civilians are killed in a massacre in Mai Kadra near the Sudanese border.

November 10-13, 2020: Refugees on the move. As sporadic violence continues in the north, a wave of refugees flees to neighboring Sudan. On November 11, approximately 10,000 refugees are reported to have crossed the border, including many soldiers. That number has since increased to 25,000, according to Sudanese officials

November 14, 2020: Rocket attacks in Asmara. Multiple rockets launched from Ethiopia hit Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael says Asmara was a “legitimate target” because Ethiopian government forces were using its airport to carry out attacks on TPLF fighters.


Human rights group Amnesty International said it had confirmed that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death” in the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) on Monday last week.

This escalating crisis has worsen the state of affairs in the lives of people in region especially children and women who are the most vulnerable group that depend on food aid.

Nearly over 30,000 people have been forced to flee to the neighboring Sudan where else internet and telephone has been cut making it difficult obtain concrete details of the situation.

In regard to this crisis, it means: Children are being forced to adapt to changes that tend to have a major impact on their mental well-being and their future.

Impact of war on children means:

  • When children  are exposed to situations of terror and horror during conflict/war they are left to experience the enduring impacts in posttraumatic stress disorder in their lives which lead to high rates of depression and anxiety in war-affected children.
  • In times of war/violence children are separated from their families, are harmed, their rights are violated-child abuse, neglected and forced to flee as their lives are endangered.
  • Conditions for maintenance of child health deteriorate in war-Refugee children are particularly vulnerable to the deadly combination of malnutrition and infectious illness.
  • Children may lose their community and its culture during war, sometimes having it reconstituted in refugee or diaspora situations.
  • Millions of children are disabled by war, many of whom have grossly inadequate access to rehabilitation services.
  • Children suffer a range of war injuries. Certain weapons affect them particularly.
  • children are dependent on the care, empathy, and attention of adults who love them. Their attachments are frequently disrupted in times of war, due to the loss of parents, extreme preoccupation of parents in protecting and finding subsistence for the family, and emotional unavailability of depressed or distracted parents.
  • Impacts in childhood may adversely affect the life trajectory of children far more than adults. Consider children who lose the opportunity for education during war, children who are forced to move into refugee or displaced person camps, where they wait for years in miserable circumstances for normal life to resume, if it ever does. 

The UN and other international organizations have been warning of the potential for disaster. Food aid trucks have been stranded at regional borders and banks in Tigray have been closed for days, cutting off people’s access to cash transfers.

Even before fighting began, the region had been reeling from a locust outbreak, one of its worst in decades, that had destroyed vast swathes of cropland.

The destructive effects of conflict include all grave child rights violations as well as a broad range of both direct and indirect effects that follow children through the life course and into adulthood. 

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