Not many people would leave Australia and fly across the world to work in a country torn apart by a brutal civil war. But UNICEF Yemen Chief of Child Protection, Julie Gill, has packed her bags not once, but several times to work in some of the biggest emergencies around the globe.

For Julie, the decision to leave her home in Melbourne for a country where more than 11 million children are in need of help was simple. "What could be more important than the protection of children in a conflict?" she says. 
This girl was injured along with her brothers and her uncle, while her family was trying to escape from the fighting. ©UNICEF/AYYASHI
Aerial attacks and street fighting took hold of most of Yemen in 2015 and put millions of civilians, especially children, in danger. 

Three years on, almost all of the country's population has been affected by the war. They face food shortages, disease, displacement and an acute lack of access to basic services, according to Julie. 

"In Yemen, there are different challenges every day," she says. Between March 2015 and August this year, more than 6,500 children have been confirmed killed or injured. Another 2,673 have been recruited as child soldiers by armed forces and other groups.

"This is an unacceptable burden on children and their families. We don't want children to be statistics," Julie says.
"These are actual lives that have been
affected - not only the children killed
and injured but also their families,
extended families and communities."
While each day presents a new challenge for the team in Yemen, Julie says August was a particularly sad month with at least 87 verified children killed and 129 injured in just four weeks, including 39 boys who were killed and 47 injured in a single incident when an airstrike hit a bus carrying children while they were returning from a summer camp.

"Children are killed and injured almost every day; from stepping on mines, tampering with unexploded ordnances, from the impact of airstrikes, being trapped in crossfire or from being directly engaged in the conflict," Julie says.
A boy transports jerrycans to collect water near Hodeidah where water is scarce. ©UNICEF/AYYASHI

Basic services are barely functioning in the country. There is limited access to schools and only a third of the country's population is connected to water, Julie says. 

On top of this, the war has put millions at risk of famine. At the main hospital in Sana'a, Yemen's largest city, parents are bringing in their sons and daughters who are often just skin and bones.

"We have a huge population of children who are severely and acutely malnourished," Julie says. One in three children in Yemen are on the brink of famine. An estimated 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished - that includes nearly 400,000 children under five who are fighting for their lives and suffering severe acute malnutrition. 

With UNICEF's help, about 170,000 children with severe acute malnutrition have been admitted for therapeutic care. 

Despite the devasting malnutrition numbers, Julie says adolescents are the ones who are at particular risk in Yemen. The economic situation is very dire and families' coping mechanisms are exhausted. For many it is a matter of survival. Consequently, boys are being recruited and used by multiple parties to the conflict, and we are seeing an increase in girls being married.

 

"These are just some of the risks and impacts
we are trying to protect children from."
Julie Gill is tasked with the overwhelming job of protecting Yemen's children. ©UNICEF/Yemen

Julie is based in Melbourne but has been working in Yemen for almost a year. She and her team are working to prevent and respond to the worse forms of violence, exploitations and abuse against children.

The child protection program in Yemen focuses on children who are particularly vulnerable with psychosocial support, mine risk education, and access to critical services. For example, victim's assistance where UNICEF provides prosthetic limbs to children who have lost their own limbs in landmine explosions, and support for children and their families to adapt to the new disability.

Julie has worked in some of the most stressful, conflict-affected places in the world including in Gaza, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other affected countries in the Eastern African region. 

She says Yemen is a complex and protracted emergency, with deep impacts on children, their families and communities. There are multiple parties to the conflict, all committing a range of grave child rights violations, whilst the country is facing an almost complete collapse of basic services and deepening poverty. 

"People's coping mechanisms are brought to the absolute brink and after more than three years of conflict, people are getting tired and not seeing a way out," Julie says.   
 
"It is an insecure environment and anything
can happen at any time so there is
always a degree of risk working in these
situations. But if you focus on that, you
wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."
Thousands of children have lost their homes, schools and all things familiar due to the conflict in Yemen. ©UNICEF/ABDULHALEEM


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UNICEF can reach children no one else can. We can provide safe places for children to learn and play, deliver clean water and life-changing supplies, bring a child back from severe malnutrition and make sure every child smiles. But we can’t do it alone. Help UNICEF deliver these things and more to every child.

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