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More than 40% of the world’s internally displaced are children

On Universal Children’s Day, new research from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre presents the first regional and national estimates of the numbers of children forced from their homes by conflict and violence. 

At least 17 million children under the age of 18 were living in internal displacement around the world at the end of 2018, more than five million of them under the age of five. Nearly half of the total number are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new IDMC report that will be launched on 21 November in Geneva. 

Eight countries have one million or more children displaced by conflict and violence; ranging from Syria, with 2.2 million, through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen, to Ethiopia with one million.  

“Given that just over 40 per cent of all people internally displaced by conflict and violence are under the age of 18, any attempt at preventing or responding to internal displacement should focus on children. Yet, children remain largely invisible in data collection and overlooked in most policy debates on the issue of internal displacement,” said Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director. 

In addition to disaggregated figures on displaced children’s age and location, the report presents some of the harmful impacts of internal displacement on children’s security, health and education. A survey conducted by IDMC in Ethiopia in 2019 found clear signs of psychological distress among displaced children. Teachers in a settlement for people seeking refuge from conflict reported that their students were easily upset, responded to situations in a seemingly aggressive way and sometimes fainted from stress. 

“Internally displaced children are at especially high risk of abuse, neglect, illness and poverty. They require dedicated support from their governments. We cannot under-estimate the risk that this represents for future generations,” added Alexandra Bilak.   

The report also looks at policies and practices from around the world to identify options for supporting and protecting internally displaced children. 

Several countries have dedicated part of their national internal displacement policies to children, including; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, Vanuatu and Yemen. All of these policies include the right to access education without discrimination. Gaps remain, however, as less than half consider the need to remain in their communities, receive essential immunisations, benefit from dedicated means of registration and recognition, and be protected from early marriage and military recruitment.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for better disaggregation of data by age, sex and other characteristics. The Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics (EGRIS) is soon to publish recommendations on how to improve national statistical capacities on internal displacement. Meanwhile, further global, regional and national estimates can help to raise awareness on the scale and urgency of the issue and monitor progress.

These estimates are based on 53 countries across all five continents for which data was available. They do not include millions more displaced because of disasters, climate change or other causes. 


The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) is the world's authoritative source of data and analysis on internal displacement. Since its establishment in 1998, as part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), IDMC has offered a rigorous, independent and trusted service to the international community. Our work informs policy and operational decisions that improve the lives of the millions of people living in internal displacement, or at risk of becoming displaced in the future.  

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