Google ‘Syrian Children’ and all you can see are pictures of massacres, bombing and battles. A few days ago, I was going through such pictures. Horrified by their plight, I showed them to a friend. She looked at them and said, “This is nothing new. It happens every day there.” I was a little shocked at her reaction.
The whole world keenly paid attention to the rescue of the children from Thailand, who were stuck in the caves. We sympathised with them. We wanted them to come out of the situation unharmed. Then why are we so ignorant to the plight of the children suffering every single day in Syria?
Is it because people don’t really care as long as it is not them or we have gotten so used to seeing war and death in Syria that we have no empathy left when it comes to them?
Before the start of the civil war in March 2011, Syria was a middle-income country that was able to adequately provide for its people. But then the civil war began and crisis gripped the whole nation. The lives of Syrian children have been extremely affected by this conflict.
The condition of Syrian children was highlighted when CNN new anchor Kate Bolduan broke down in the middle of a broadcast over a distressing image of Omran Daqneesh, a boy pulled from rubble in Aleppo. The picture was widely circulated on social media and after a while, was soon forgotten. But that was just one case. The United Nations has verified 7,000 cases of children either killed or injured in the conflict, but says unverified reports put the number ‘way beyond 20,000.’
Every day, various violations of children’s rights take place in Syria and the kids are regularly exposed to escalating violence and chemical, explosive weapon attacks. Thousands have lost family members and have been forced to flee their homes, only to become relocated within Syria or in bordering countries. Many make dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean to reach Europe, which has resulted in many deaths due to shipwrecks.
Virginia Gamba, the special representative for children in conflict, told the United Nations Security Council that since the beginning of 2018, the UN has verified over 1,200 violations against children. These include more than 600 children killed or maimed and over 180 recruited or used by government forces or armed groups. in 2018 alone, more than 1,300 children are reportedly held by parties in northeastern Syria, according to Gamba, but the UN monitoring team could only verify seven cases as the areas affected were largely inaccessible. In other areas, the team has verified more than 350 cases since 2014.
Problems faced by Syrian children
The biggest problem faced by Syrian children is the psychological trauma. According to a report by Save the Children, kids trapped in Syria face severe mental health issues. The report revealed how the war has ruined the childhood of the children. They were scared to play outside or even go to school.
UNICEF estimates that around seven million Syrian children live in poverty. Without having proper food to eat and source of livelihood, these kids die out of starvation. (RFI, October 2017).
Syria had a strong education system in place before the war, with almost 100 per cent primary school enrolment and 70 per cent of kids attending secondary school. According to the 2004 census, Syria’s literacy rate was 79.6 per cent. In 2016, UNICEF reports that 2.1 million children in Syria and 700,000 Syrian refugee children do not have access to education since the beginning of the conflict. The parents are scared to send children to school due to air strikes and bombings.
Child labour is another problem that Syrian kids are facing. They are often sent away from their families to generate income, avoid being recruited, or avoid being hurt in the ongoing conflict.
The lack of health care in Syria has affected lives of million. Until the start of the conflict, Syria’s child survival statistics matched that of any other middle-income country. However, the conflict has resulted in a splintered health care system. According to WHO, in 2015, Syrian kids are not just dying as a result of attacks, but also because they do not have access to basic health care.
Sexual abuse of children has been another result of the war. The UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC) states that sexualised gender violence has been reported in the context of detention, at checkpoints and during house-searches in Syria.
Child marriage was present in the Syrian society before the conflict but the rate was much lower today. It has increased dramatically since the start of the war.
“Children are dying before our eyes,” says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “This can be stopped. It needs to stop now,” she added.
If Elon Musk can build a mini-submarine to rescue the Thai kids, I am sure there could be steps taken to save the Syrian kids from further damage. The same kind of brain power, awareness, media coverage, efforts and resources can also be used to save so many other kids in crisis. It is time that these kids feel secure and know what peace means. The war on children is the war against the whole of humanity and it should not be an option.