Visitors to the United Nations building in New York will be confronted this week by a haunting and sobering scene.
Lined up on a lawn at the organization’s Manhattan headquarters are rows upon rows of bright blue UNICEF backpacks, a scene reminiscent of a graveyard.
There are 3,758 backpacks in all — each symbolizing a child who died in conflict last year.
The installation, which was opened Sunday and will run through Thursday, aims to “show the devastating scale of child deaths in conflict zones” ― a toll that hit a record high last year, UNICEF said on its website.
The organization said it hopes the backpacks will also send a poignant message to world leaders as they prepare to gather at the U.N. General Assembly next week.
“UNICEF backpacks have always been a symbol of hope and childhood possibility,” Henrietta Fore, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “[W]orld leaders gathering at the UN General Assembly will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This installation should remind them of the stakes.”
At least 12,000 children were killed or maimed in conflict zones last year, according to a U.N. report.
As UNICEF noted, that’s the highest number of kids maimed and killed in conflict since the U.N. started reporting such violations in 2005; and the actual toll was likely to have been even higher since the number reported reflected only the cases that could be verified.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed heartbreak at the staggering levels of violence facing children in conflict worldwide.
″This is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, sharing photographs of him visiting the backpack “graveyard.” “May these backpacks become a universal symbol of hope, and a heartfelt cry for peace.”