Women and children make up more than half of the global refugee population linked to conflicts. Though men and women, both face the horrors of war, the group that is most vulnerable and that suffers the most is made up of women and children. Women frequently experience the horrors of war as civilians in form of rape, gender-based violence, physical harassment, displacement, lack of access to reproductive as well as health services and thus, are disproportionately affected by conflict.  Women and girls who reside in the places impacted by war are more susceptible to these crimes. This article explores the impact of armed conflict on women and children and their protection through International Humanitarian Law. 


Armed conflicts force women to flee from their homes and put them at a greater risk of abuse and exploitation, especially while travelling alone with a small child.  Women and girls who have been internally displaced due to armed conflict, with female heads of family, are more vulnerable to various forms of abuse, including sexual violence. Often, displaced women and female heads of homes are left to raise children alone because their husbands are absent, in detention or fighting. This means contributing towards the family’s income on their own, making decisions regarding the education of their children, and ensuring the family’s safety on their own.  There is remarkable underrepresentation of sexual violence cases in an armed conflict and victims frequently encounter obstacles in receiving the necessary assistance and care. Some people experience fear of being rejected by their families, social stigma, and difficulty getting access to psychological services and adequate medical care. 


The main threat that women encounter is violence based on gender. At times of conflict, women and girls are subjected to previously unheard-of levels of sexual abuse, assault and torture. Women and girls are frequently viewed as weapons of war and exploited as a means of control by those who commit violent crimes and are also objectified during the conflict. 

A few key areas where war damages women and girls the greatest include underage marriage, lack of access to education, reproductive health services, gender-based violence.  

Sexual Abuse and Gender-based Violence (GBV): The connection between GBV and war is undeniable. In crisis, women and children are more likely to experience physical, verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse. Additionally, this type of violence is employed in battle to establish dominance, undermine families, carry out genocide and ethnic cleansing, dissuade resistance, and destabilize communities. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence at the time of war including rape, assault, and forced prostitution. Example: Sexual violence against women during conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Migration and Migrants: Women are particularly adversely affected by displacement because they are more likely to be victims of exploitation and trafficking in camps for refugees or when escaping war areas. Due to weak security measures or dearth of adequate resources to combat sexual assault, women who get into camps for internally displaced are vulnerable. For instance, Syrian women who fled their countries encountered difficulties like heightened susceptibility to abuse and exploitation. 

Restricted Healthcare Access: Pregnancy and delivery risks may rise for women if they have trouble accessing maternity and reproductive health treatments, among other healthcare services. For instance, damage to medical infrastructure in conflict areas may restrict pregnant women’s access to safe delivery practices and postpartum assistance. 

Death of Loved ones and family: Women may lose spouse, kids and fathers, among other family members which can cause emotional anguish and result in more duties as a single parent. For instance, a large number of women lost their spouses and male family members during the Syrian Civil War, forcing them to assume the responsibility of being their family’s only provider. 

Disruption in Education: Educational Systems are frequently disturbed by conflicts and females maybe disproportionately affected encountering obstacles like limitations in attending school or being forced to leave school in order to ensure their safety. For instance, when Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, it banned education for girls. 

Financial Difficulties: The devastation of infrastructure, loss of employment and restricted work options can pose economic issues for women. For instance, women in aftermath conflict cultures such as Liberia had financial challenges while striving to reconstruct their personal and communal life. 

Psychological Truma: Women who experience the psychological effects of war, such as being exposed to violence and being uprooted, may develop long-term mental health problems. For instance, women who were there during the genocide in Rwanda frequently reported PTSD and other mental health issues.


International Humanitarian Law attempts to prevent and lessen human suffering during times of conflict, without discriminating on the basis of gender. Nonetheless, it recognizes that women face particular difficulties during an armed war, including health risks and sexual attacks. Instead of being fought between two groups, war might impact the entire civilian population. In today’s wars, fighting has a big impact on women. This is acknowledged by humanitarian law, which offers both men and women wide protection as well as specific measures that give women further protection. 

IHL stipulates that all parties involved in a conflict must be treated humanely, without “adverse distinction” based on a person’s gender, race, nationality, religion, political views, or any other characteristic. This includes the sick, injured, captives and civilians. This extensive protection is provided by the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their Additional Protocols (1977), in addition to customary humanitarian law. Additionally, extra protections are in place for female POWs, including the creation of dedicated holding facilities for them. International humanitarian law forbids rape and other forms of sexual assault against women, and it may classify all these acts as war crimes. In addition, special attention needs to be given to expectant women and mothers of small children, especially nursing moms. It’s important to pay close attention to women whose lives have been damaged by armed war.

Women are more susceptible to family separation and the anguish of not knowing what became of a lost relative during and after an armed conflict. Families have the right to know what happened to their lost relatives under humanitarian law, and parties to armed hostilities are entitled to take all reasonable steps to locate everyone reported missing. 


Children are among the most vulnerable groups during wartime, and the psychological, emotional, and physical effects of armed conflict can cause them to suffer in different ways. One of the most alarming aspects of war is the pain that children endure, which frequently has a permanent impact on their growth and general well-being. 

Direct Assault and Deaths: Children may be directly harmed by bombs, shelling, and armed attacks, among other acts of violence. During military wars, many youngsters sustain injuries or even lose their lives. For instance, bombings and other acts of violence have resulted in multiple incidences of children dying or being injured throughout the Syrian civil war. 

Migration and Status as Refugees: Children are displaced when families are forced to leave their homes due to conflict. Children who are displaced have a higher risk of exploitation, illness, and malnourishment. For instance: Millions of children were forced to flee Syria during the civil conflict, which has led to many hardships, including subpar living conditions in refugee camps. 

Bereavement of Family and Supporters: Due to violence or forced separation, children may lose parents and siblings among other family members. There might be significant emotional and psychological effects from the loss of a caregiver. For instance, a large number of children impacted by the violence in South Sudan are orphans, which makes them more vulnerable and makes it difficult for them to get the care they need.

Recruiting and Utilization in the Military: Armed groups may compel minors to enlist in their forces during some wars, exposing them to the brutalities of combat and abusing them physically and mentally. For instance, there have been reports of the use of child soldiers in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

Education Disruption: Education systems are disrupted by war, which results in teacher displacement, school closures, and barriers that keep kids from attending courses. Unschooling may make their prospects for the future worse. Example: Due to the continuous conflict in Afghanistan, schools have had to close and access to education has been restricted, especially for girls.

Undernutrition and Inadequate Medical Care: Access to basic services, such as healthcare and nutrition, is hampered by conflict, placing children at risk for undernourishment, avoidable illnesses, and subpar medical care. For instance, children in Yemen are suffering from acute malnutrition and a lack of access to healthcare due to the fighting. 

Trauma to the Mind: Youngsters who experience abuse, bereavement, or relocation frequently experience extreme psychological trauma, which can result in long-term mental health problems. For instance, children who witnessed the bombardment during the Bosnian War or the atrocities in Rwanda had long-lasting psychological effects. 


Children are particularly susceptible during military wars. Despite being legally protected, military forces and armed organizations nevertheless seek new members. They are routinely sexually raped, killed, taken from their homes by force, separated from their relatives, and subjected to other forms of exploitation. International Humanitarian Law provides universal protection to children in conflict, whether they are civilians or fighters. Nonetheless, several measures recognize their particular susceptibility and needs in times of armed conflict. Children can participate in wars and conflicts in a variety of ways, but they can also be used in supporting roles that put them in grave danger, like delivering supplies or providing military intelligence. The Geneva Convention’s additional protocols were the first to establish guidelines for handling these kinds of situations. Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to be recruited or take part in hostilities, according to the regulations. Prioritizing the enlistment of 15 to 18-year-olds in the military during international armed conflicts is another requirement of the first Additional Protocol. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is mostly endorsed, included the 15-year-old age restriction. An optional protocol to this Convention was established in May 2000, raising the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to at least 15 and raising the obligatory recruitment age to 18. It stated that under no circumstances should armed groups use underage participants, and that states ought to outlaw such behavior. 

IHL and related children’s rights laws provide special protection against a range of hazards faced by children who are not involved in an armed conflict. Although they are generally granted non-combatant protection, the Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols recognize their special requirements for food, clothes, shelter, and medical attention. To ensure their physical safety, children who are orphaned or separated must be located, protected, and provided with special amenities. They also need to fulfill their educational qualifications. All necessary steps must be taken simultaneously to facilitate the reunion of families that have been apart for some time. 

 The goal of international humanitarian law, or IHL, is to lessen the harm that conflict does to children. Unfortunately, the nature of today’s conflicts demands even more ground-level measures to shield kids from the atrocities of war and to help people reconstruct their lives following the conflict. 


A person’s life is drastically altered in an armed conflict. Both their human and legal rights are severely infringed. Because the males in their family are away at war and they must take care of everything, women and children are disproportionately impacted by this battle. This is a difficult circumstance that leaves them with mental damage that lasts for years. One such law is known as international humanitarian law, which defends individuals who are impacted by a war but are not physically involved in it, particularly women and children. IHL has established a number of norms and regulations to protect these vulnerable groups, but regrettably, modern warfare has a different nature, and as a result, to safeguard the most vulnerable groups, greater work must be done. 

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