According to a UNICEF report, Syria faces a “merciless war against children”, with more children killed in 2017 than ever before. Hundreds of children have also been forced to take part in the fighting.
Over the past year the war in Syria bears the name of at least 910 children killed and 361 injured. Twenty-seven thousand people have been killed since the outbreak of the war, 1.5 million no longer go to school while of the more than five million across the country who are in acute need, 663,000 are under the age of five.
Children pay the heaviest price of a conflict that has been raging in the country for eight years that turned its youths in a lost generation, plagued by the bombings amidst heinous violence, overcome by constant fear without goods or services, unable to access education, healthcare assistance, with no moment of leisure. The UN officials warn that 2018 numbers could be even worse.
Spotlight on the situation of Syria’s east Ghouta, an enclave near Damascus occupied by 350 thousand civilians besieged by the Syrian government and its allies. They are suffering starvation and they’re on their last legs after humanitarian relief convoys were denied access. Sick and injured children need to leave the enclave but they remain prisoners of escalating attacks against schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructures that testify to the daily violations of international law and human rights.
Despite the horrifying situation the children of Ghouta continue going to underground schools set up to escape the bombings, they have continued breathing oxygen – or what remained of it – after repeated chemical attacks, they continued to greet people despite their amputated limbs and dream coloured kites decorating the skies instead of warplanes.
“In 2017, 25% of boys and girls under the age of 15 were recruited and used in the fighting by all sides– of course considered a war crime and prohibited under international humanitarian law”, said Panos Moumtzis, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis. “Nine out of 10 recruited children served in a combat role, in uniform, armed and with military training. Growing up in conflict, they may have little choice or alternative, they may also have no way out, as killing or detention by the other side may await them”.
Children aged 13 to 18 were imprisoned and treated as adults. Many boys were sexually violated by ISIS militants and the girls were forced to marry some of the most vicious mercenaries among them. Hundreds of minors have been forced into false testimony, others have been accused of apostasy and spies in favour of the government and international intelligence groups.
Seven years of violence have caused mental disabilities, especially in children, who witnessed the murder of their family members with reports of suicide attempts, prolonged insomnia and depression.
UNICEF has urged all the warring parties in Syria and “those who have influence over them” to take steps to ease the suffering of children.
The agency called on the combatants to end “attacks on schools and hospitals” and to support reconstruction efforts “prioritising the needs of children, including those with disabilities”.