A whole lot of bad news for Syrian children

Displaced Syrian boys and girl gather at their refugee camp during the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres and U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark, in Deir al-Ahmar village, near Baalbek city, east Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Things are not well for Syrian children. Wednesday saw reports that a botched vaccine delivery left 15 dead in the rebel-held north. The news got worse on Thursday. An estimated 3 million Syrian children are not in school, a UN warns that food rations will soon be cut and there is a major problem when it comes to protecting women and girls against sexual abuse and exploitation.

The three year-old civil war in Syria has eroded the lives of the millions of people who are still in the country or have fled the violence. The next generation of Syrians are the most vulnerable and have experienced wide ranging disruptions that are reason for concern, say aid groups and observers.

To make matters worse, the money needed to mount a humanitarian response is not available. If things don’t change the UN will have to cut food rations by 40% for the 4 million Syrians that depend on food aid. The cuts will be enacted in October and further cuts will be made in November if things don’t change, said John Ging, director of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to Reuters.

“It is because the money is not coming in,” said Ging. “This is devastating news for people who are aid-dependent.”

Such could impact Syrians beyond health and nutrition. More than 3 million people have fled Syria for its neighboring countries. Children alone make up roughly half of that number. Women and children are four out of every five refugees. Security is important when people are already vulnerable due to displacement.

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A report published by the International Rescue Committee says that more attention is need to be paid to the issue of security. The interview-based findings show that most women (60%) feel insecure. Things are so bad for some women that one out of every three do not leave their homes due to fears or the feeling of being overwhelmed.

The point is not to consider only the hardships faced by women and girls. Rather, the listening exercise brings the voices of the affected women to the forefront in order to ensure that their concerns and desires are being met.

“Women and girls affected by conflict must be regarded as more than victims of brutality; they are agents of change who, if given the opportunity, can transform their societies,” writes Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, in the report’s introduction.

One significant challenge is education. The war has destroyed or damaged more than 3,400 schools in Syria. That and the displacement of 1.5 million children means that 2.8 million children are not in school, said Save the Children yesterday.

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“It is no surprise that, under these conditions, Syrian children are dropping out of school by the day, and the international community has to step up its response to ensure that we do not lose an entire generation of children,” said Roger Hearn, regional director for Save the Children.

The children who are going to school are not necessarily learning. Teachers working in the north of Syria say that roughly half of the children are easily scared, an effect of the ongoing fighting. It has also made for harder relief work. The UN and NGOs have struggled to gain access to parts of Syria and provide essential humanitarian assistance.
The challenge was evidenced in the death of 15 children during a vaccine campaign. Save the Children carried out the program and says that as many as 75 children were mistakenly given a muscle relaxant, rather than the second round of a measles vaccine. Confusion in the packaging was blamed for the costly mistake.

With polio appearing in Syria and other vaccine preventable diseases increasing in the country, the incident was another setback for the health of children.

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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.