Over 20,000 children in Gaza missing, detained or buried, says aid official

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has resulted in an estimated 21,000 children missing, with many feared trapped under rubble, detained, or separated from their families, according to a report released by Save the Children on Monday.

Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy for Save the Children, told Reuters on Friday that approximately 17,000 children in Gaza are believed to be unaccompanied and separated, with an additional 4,000 likely buried under the rubble.

Save the Children’s child protection teams have emphasized the urgent need for action to protect these separated and unaccompanied children, a task made more difficult by the escalating security situation.

Saieh reported that an unknown number of children have been detained by Israeli forces, forcibly transferred out of Gaza, or buried in unmarked graves.

“Several mass graves have been found, and an unknown number of the bodies in these graves are children,” Saieh said.

She noted the difficulty in verifying the identities of the children killed, particularly those found in mass graves, due to the severe damage to their bodies.

“So many children have lost their entire families, leaving no next of kin,” Saieh said, adding to the challenges of identifying the victims.

The report also highlighted the toll on Israeli children, stating that at least 33 Israeli children have been killed since October. An unconfirmed number of children are among those held captive in Gaza.

Additionally, around 250 Palestinian children from the West Bank were reported missing in the Israeli military detention system as of June 9, with families unable to confirm their whereabouts due to further visitation restrictions imposed since October.

Saieh stressed the traumatic impact of the war on children, recounting cases where children were so traumatized that they could not eat even when food was available.

She warned that the effects of the war on Gaza’s children “will span generations,” impacting them both physically and psychologically.