2016 worst year yet for children of Syria’s war

13th March 2017

Wednesday March 15th marks sixth anniversary of conflict in Syria

DUBLIN/DAMASCUS/AMMAN, 13 March 2017 – Grave violations against children in Syria were the highest on record in 2016 UNICEF has said, in a grim assessment of the conflict’s impact on children, as the war reaches six years.

Verified instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country:

• At least 652 children were killed – a 20 per cent increase from 2015 – making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children since the formal verification of child casualties began in 2014.
• 255 children were killed in or near a school.
• More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the number recruited in 2015. Children are being used and recruited to fight directly on the frontlines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards.
• There were at least 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel .

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa speaking from Homs, Syria. “Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being, and future.”

Challenges in access in several parts of Syria stand in the way of assessing the full scale of children’s suffering and of urgently getting humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable girls and boys. Beyond the bombs and bullets, children are dying in silence, often from diseases that can easily be prevented. Access to medical care, lifesaving supplies and other basic services remains difficult.

The most vulnerable Syrian children are the 2.8 million caught in hard-to-reach areas, including 280,000 children living under siege who are almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid.

After six years of war, nearly six million children now depend on humanitarian assistance, a twelve-fold increase from 2012. Millions of children have been displaced, some up to seven times. Over 2.3 million children are now living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

Inside Syria and across its borders, coping mechanisms are eroding, and families are taking extreme measures just to survive, often pushing children into early marriage and child labour. In more than two thirds of households, children are working to support their families, some in conditions unfit even for adults.

Yet despite the horrors and suffering, there are many remarkable stories of children determined to pursue their hopes and aspirations. Emany (11), now a refugee in Turkey said: “I want to be a teacher – I want to open a school for orphans.” Darsy (12), also sheltering in Turkey, has different dreams: “I want to be a surgeon to help the sick and injured people of Syria. I dream of a Syria without a war so we can go home. I dream of a world without any wars.”

“We continue to witness the courage of Syria’s children. Many have crossed frontlines just to sit for school exams. They insist on learning, including in underground schools. There is so much more we can and should do to turn the tide for Syria’s children,” said Cappelaere.

On behalf of the children of Syria, UNICEF is appealing to all parties to the conflict, those who have influence over them, the international community and anyone who cares about children for:

• An immediate political solution to end the conflict in Syria;
• An end to all grave violations against children including killing, maiming and recruitment, and attacks on schools and hospitals;
• The lifting of all sieges and unconditional and sustained access to all children in need, wherever they are in Syria;
• Providing refugee host governments and communities with sustainable support for vulnerable children, regardless of their status, and
• Continued financial support for UNICEF’s lifesaving assistance to Syrian children.

UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director Peter Power said: “During the six years of conflict I have travelled to the region many times, meeting hundreds of children affected by violence. All of them are desperate for peace, desperate for education, desperate for a future. One day they will hopefully celebrate the end of war, but they will then face the most difficult task imaginable, rebuilding their nation from ruins. We are incredibly grateful for the generosity Irish people have shown over each of the six years of this war. Unfortunately, because there is no end in sight yet, we are now forced to issue yet another appeal for donations.”

UNICEF is seeking just over US$1 billion to help Syrian children and families seeking refuge from the war in neighbouring countries, and US$354 million to provide life-saving assistance to half the population of Syria.


*Notes to Editors*

UNICEF’s publication Hitting Rock Bottom, along with broadcast quality b-roll, videos from children in Syria, and photos is available here

UNICEF MENA Facebook page will carry a Facebook Live on Wednesday 15 March 2017 @ 11am (local time) in Beirut, Lebanon. At the event, Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa will address the media. He will be joined by internationally acclaimed Jordanian pianist and UNICEF Regional Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, who wrote ‘Song for Syria’, which will be released by UNICEF to mark the 6th anniversary of conflict in Syria on Wednesday March 15th. The song is performed by 10 year-old Ansam.

To donate to the children of Syria, please visit our website.


UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF has been operating for 70 years.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Youtube or visit UNICEF Ireland’s website

For more information, please contact:

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland | aedin@unicef.ie
Tel: +353 1 809 0281 | Mob: +353 85 1395272

Tamara Kummer, UNICEF Regional Office, Amman +962 797 588 550, tkummer@unicef.org

Shushan Mebrahtu, UNICEF Damascus, +963 (0) 992 892 864, shmebrahtu@unicef.org

Salam Abdulmunem, UNICEF Beirut, +961 70 996605, sabdulmunem@unicef.org

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