At least 870 children are missing in Gaza and feared trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, as relentless bombardments, decimated infrastructure including roads, and lack of fuel due to the ongoing siege prevent rescue workers from reaching them.
Since violence escalated in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory on 7 October, at least 2,360 children have been killed in Gaza and 5,364 injured. According to Israeli media, 28 children were killed in Israel and at least 220 people are currently held captive in Gaza, including children.
A doctor at Al Awda Hospital in northern Gaza told Save the Children that concerns over missing people and the increasing number of separated children are growing, adding that he received at least 10-12 cases of separated children in his hospital and several other cases of deceased children whose bodies hadn’t been identified or claimed by any relatives.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza said they received at least 1,550 reports of missing persons still under the rubble, including 870 children.
Rescue efforts are severely complicated by the ongoing bombardments and shortage of fuel, which essential search and rescue equipment relies on, as well as a lack of heavy machinery in Gaza.
According to the UN, at least 34 rescue workers have been killed in the conflict in Gaza in the past fortnight, with at one rescue worker killed and four injured while on duty. Rescue workers have warned that the disruption of electricity and lack of fuel is taking a heavy toll on their work, preventing them from accessing wounded people or retrieve dead bodies from the rubble of bombed homes.
For those children still alive yet trapped under the rubble, they are likely to be suffering from severe physical trauma- including complex crush injuries – dehydration, and extreme mental distress, said Save the Children. For those who have been rescued but have suffered severe injuries, most are unable to receive even basic treatment because the health system is barely functioning. Relentless airstrikes have damaged hospitals and pulverized ambulances, generators are running out of fuel, and shortages of medicine, equipment and specialized personnel mean that those hospitals that are still open are barely able to treat injured people. With no safe passage out of Gaza through the crossings, injured children and their families are also being denied lifesaving, specialised treatment outside the Gaza Strip.
Save the Children is also deeply concerned for the dignity of those children that have not survived by whose bodies remain trapped under rubble. Beyond the trauma endured by parents not knowing whether their children are still alive, parents are also being denied the ability to bury their children in accordance with their cultural beliefs.
Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said:
“It is unconscionable that there are hundreds of children trapped under the rubble, with rescue teams struggling to reach them. They will undoubtedly be in extreme pain, terrified, alone, and waiting for help. If there is not a ceasefire, if the siege is not lifted, this help will simply not come for many.
Many of those who are rescued will not receive the treatment they need, as healthcare has been another casualty of this war. All parties must ensure that children who need specialised and life-saving care can receive it outside of Gaza.
Children in Gaza have been through unimaginable horror. They’ve lost their homes, their loved ones, their safety. We must make every effort to ensure that thousands more don’t lose their lives. All parties must agree to an immediate ceasefire. With every hour that passes, more children’s lives will be the cost.”