Calls grow louder for urgent action to protect Syria’s children

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The present situation for Syria’s children is bad. Three years have passed and a generation is caught in the middle.  It’s not hyperbole when considering that there is no end in sight to the civil war.

Physical danger is an immediate concern. Numbers are hard to know, but estimates put the number of children killed during the conflict at 10,000.

Need is driving some children into labor, something that was not the norm for Syria before the fighting started. Salah is only 15 years-old, but he works in a mine near the Beka’a valley of Lebanon, with his brother. School is not an option for the boys and the family needs income. So they must work.

“I didn’t use to work in Syria,” Salah said to UNICEF. “But I am working here because I need to help with the expenses. My brother is working too. We can’t go to school, so it’s better if we work.”

Also worrying is fact that some 3 million kids are not going to school, roughly half of the country’s school age children. If the disruption lasts for much longer the impacts could be long lasting, worry humanitarian organizations.

A total of 5.5 million children have felt the impacts of the fighting. The number of children affected by the Syrian civil war doubled in the past year and it keeps growing.

Syrian Children AffectedThe situation for girls is equally challenging. Families who are unable to support their children seek out marriage as a way to provide security for the girls and themselves. In one case, a girl who was only 16 years-old was taken out of school to be married. Fortunately for her, a UNICEF-supported NGO intervened and convinced her father to keep her in school.

However not all stories work out so well. The girl was fortunate that her family is living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Support is more readily available to those in the camp as opposed to people still in Syria and those that sought unassisted refuge in Syria’s neighboring countries.

Aid organizations have rallied recently to draw attention to the scope of the problem. Save the Children did their part by making a video imagining the civil war if it happened in London. It has garnered more than 24 million views in the span of a week. The latest warning comes from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“A narrow window of opportunity remains to protect this brutalized generation. Another year of conflict and suffering would likely push Syrian children beyond the point of no return,” says the organization in a report released this week.

Calls for an end to fighting and better humanitarian access have garnered mixed results. The UN did gain access to some of the hardest hit areas of Syria recently, but the situation remains tenuous. Security challenges were still present despite making an agreement with the Syrian government.

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An estimated 60% of Syrian hospitals are destroyed and access to clean water and sanitation have fallen by roughly half. The problems, exacerbated by fighting, add up to serious health concerns inside Syria. The discover of polio in the governorate of Deir Ezzour in October 2013 is only one example of the problems that are putting children at greater risk.

And then there is the emotional and mental toll of the confluence of problems.

“Many Syrian children are in pure survival mode”, says UNICEF child protection specialist Jane MacPhail in the report. “They have seen the most terrible things and forget normal social and emotional responses.”

Parents who are undergoing their own stresses are unable to provide support for their children. UNICEF says it has recorded an increase in family violence, warning that continued violence faced by children can lead to problems like dropping out of school, in the future. Children have little space to play. They spend most of their time at home or in a shelter, causing further feelings of isolation.

Aside from calls to end the war, the report urges international support for the No Lost Generation campaign that involves a range of international actors including UNICEF, USAID and Save the Children. It highlights the $1 billion that is needed to provide protection and opportunity for children affected by Syria’s civil war. The money cited is already a part of a broader appeal to respond to the crisis. The campaigners hope that illustrating the plight faced by children will lead to action.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.