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21,000 Children Are Missing in Gaza, on Top of Over 15,000 Killed by Israel

Humanitarian groups find unaccompanied children in Gaza every day, with no safe place for them to go.

Palestinian girls attend Eid al-Adha prayers in Bureij Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip, on June 16, 2024.

There are over 20,000 children in Gaza who are missing, Save the Children estimates, in addition to the over 15,000 children who have been killed amid Israel’s genocide and campaign of extermination.

In February, UNICEF estimated that at least 17,000 children in Gaza are unaccompanied or separated from their families, or about 1 percent of the 1.7 million Palestinians who Israel has forced out of their homes. Many children have been separated from their families in recent weeks amid Israel’s bloody assault on Rafah, Save the Children says.

Based on the UN’s May estimate that 10,000 people are buried under the rubble in Gaza, Save the Children calculated that 4,000 of these people are children. This means that an estimated 21,000 children are missing, based on estimates by humanitarian groups, with many likely dead.

The number of children missing may be far higher. Save the Children notes that there is an unknown number of children buried in mass graves, and the UN has reported that children have been found in mass graves with signs of torture and executions in recent months. Additionally, many children have been “disappeared” by Israeli forces — kidnapped and sent to torture camps in undisclosed locations, where many have reported being subject to assault and horrific conditions by Israeli guards.

“Every day we find more unaccompanied children and every day it is harder to support them. 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 a Save the Children specialist in Gaza in a statement, noting that Israel’s ongoing violence makes it difficult to locate children’s family members.

Humanitarian groups have noted that Israel’s destruction of infrastructure and communication systems have made it so that children are constantly being stranded, apart from family. UNICEF reported in February that, as Israel has orphaned 19,000 children, groups often find children by themselves in the street, sometimes unable to speak from trauma.

“It is a war against children,” Defense for Children International Palestine General Director Khaled Quzmar said in an interview on the Save the Children report with Al Jazeera English. “Children in Gaza are paying the big cost, the big price for the Israeli genocide on Gaza. And of course in the West Bank, children are also subject to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Not only is Israel “targeting children,” he said, but Israeli forces are also aiming to “kill the hope for the children.”

Indeed, on top of the mass killing of children and their families, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society said on Monday that Israel has been escalating arrests of children in the West Bank, with seven children arrested in the past 24 hours and an estimated 240 children still imprisoned by Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, children are facing death around every corner due to Israel’s all-out assault. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reported last week that there are at least 50,000 children who require medical treatment for malnutrition due to Israel’s starvation campaign.

“The right to life is not guaranteed anymore in Gaza,” Quzmar said.

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