As the conflict in Syria approaches another sombre milestone, more than twice as many children are now affected compared to 12 months ago, says a new report by UNICEF published today. Particularly hard hit are up to a million children who are trapped in areas of Syria that are under siege or that are hard to reach with humanitarian assistance due to continued violence.
Under Siege – the devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria focuses on the immense damage caused to the 5.5 million children now affected by the conflict and calls for an immediate end to the violence and increased support for those affected.
The report includes the accounts of children whose lives have been devastated by the three year old war, and highlights the profound traumas many have experienced. Children such as four-year-old Adnan, who fled with his family to Lebanon, suffered facial scarring when his home was bombed and still suffers from emotional distress. “He cries all night,” his mother is quoted as saying. “He is scared of everything and is afraid when we leave him, even for a second.”
UNICEF estimates that there are 2 million children like Adnan in need of psychological support or treatment.
Ettie Higgins, UNICEF Syria said: “The situation in Syria has escalated in the past year with the number of displaced children rising rapidly. As one of only a handful of humanitarian agencies on the ground, our priority is to reach children with basic supplies like clean water, basic healthcare, vaccinations against polio and blankets and essential services including education and psychological support.
“The children I meet in Syria never fail to demonstrate an amazing spirit that inspires hope for Syria’s future. One nine-year old boy in Aleppo told me how fled his home holding two things – his little sister’s hand and his father’s pet birds. He said he wanted to hear them sing each day.“
“Children in Syria have had their lives torn apart by violence. This must end now,” said Peter Power, Executive Director, UNICEF Ireland. “UNICEF has a comprehensive plan in place to prevent the destruction of an entire generation of children who, without our help, will grow up angry and illiterate. We urgently require funding to complete this work in 2014.”
The report warns that the future of 5.5 million children inside Syria and living as refugees in neighbouring countries hangs in the balance as violence, the collapse of health and education services, severe psychological distress and the worsening economic impact on families combine to devastate a generation.
The report draws attention to the suffering experienced by children and their families who have been trapped in areas under siege for many months. Cut off from aid, living in rubble and struggling to find food, many Syrian children have been left without protection, medical care or psychological support, and have little or no access to education. In the very worst cases children and pregnant women have been deliberately wounded or killed by snipers.
In host countries, 1.2 million Syrian children are now refugees living in camps and overwhelmed host communities, and have limited access to clean water, nutritious food or learning opportunities.
The report says that three years on, Syrian children have been forced to grow up faster than any child should. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 refugee children is now working and 1 in every 5 Syrian girls in Jordan is forced into early marriage.
The report calls on the global community to undertake six critical steps to:
- End the cycle of violence in Syria now
- Grant immediate access to the under-reached 1 million children inside Syria
- Create an environment where children are protected from exploitation and harm
- Invest in children’s education
- Help children’s inner healing through psychological care and support and
- Provide support to host communities and governments to mitigate the social and economic impact of the conflict on families.