Hitting Rock Bottom

How 2016 Became The Worst Year For Syria's Children

Young girl standing infront of rubble
UNICEF/2016/Syria/Idleb/Ali Al-Mur’y



No child is spared the horror of the war in Syria, where children come under attack on a daily basis. Violence is everywhere, ripping apart places that children thought were safe -- places that should be safe: schools, hospitals, playgrounds, public parks and children’s own homes.

Children have paid the heaviest price in this six-year war and their suffering hit rock bottom last year in a drastic escalation of violence.

At least 652 children were killed in 2016 alone - a 20 per cent increase from 2015 - making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children since child casualties have been formally documented. In less than one week in Aleppo, 223 children were injured and 96 were killed last September, Doctors were forced to leave children with low chances of survival to die because of limited capacity and lack of basic medical supplies. Challenges to access in Syria stand in the way of getting the full scope of children’s suffering and of responding quickly, effectively and to scale.

Beyond the bombs, bullets and explosions, countless children are dying in silence from preventable diseases that could easily be cured. But in today’s Syria few doctors are left and access to medical care and facilities is increasingly difficult.

Coping mechanisms are eroding fast and families are taking extreme measures just to be able to survive. Child labour, early marriage and child recruitment are on the rise.

In 2016, over 850 children were recruited and used in the conflict – more than double the number in 2015. Children are being recruited at an ever younger age and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards. These figures represent only verified instances and understate the scope of the problem.

The most vulnerable among Syria’s children are 2.8 million in hard-toreach areas including 280,000 living under siege where civilian movement, the flow of essential supplies and lifesaving humanitarian aid is heavily restricted.In some cases medical supplies have been removed from convoys, denying treatment to civilians which is a violation of international humanitarian law.

More than 1.7 million children inside Syria are out of school. One in three schools cannot be used because they are destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or being used for military purposes. In 2016, at least 87 attacks on schools and education personnel were recorded and more than 255 children were killed while at school or near school. Some schools were attacked repeatedly like in Idlib, where 26 children and six teachers were killed in the heaviest attack on a school last year.

Water has been used as a weapon of war by all parties to the conflict. In 2016, the UN documented 30 deliberate water cuts in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Raqqa and Dara’a. Most recently, running water supply to Damascus was cut off for over four weeks, depriving millions of people of their access to safe water and raising the risk of waterborne diseases espesially among children. At distribution points, children queued for hours in freezing temperatures to fetch water for their families.

After six years of war, nearly 6 million children now depend on humanitarian assistance, with almost half forced to flee their homes. Some children have been displaced up to seven times before reaching safety. Over 2.3 million Syrian children are now living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Many took the “death boats” crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

Neighbouring countries, fragile themselves due to instability and economic stagnation, have received 80% of all refugees from Syria. Across the borders in neighboring countries, while children and families are relatively safe from shelling and violence, they face other challenges to meet their needs. Many families are not able to send their children to school. Syrian refugees are not officially allowed to work, making them dependent on international aid, and pushing children- who are much too young- into the workforce, often in low paying and hazardous jobs or begging. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, thousands of children crossed Syria’s borders unaccompanied or separated from their families. The situation of more than 47,000 people stranded at the no man’s land near Syria’s southeastern border with Jordan continues to deteriorate.

Restoring hope for Syria’s children

Thankfully, amid the horrors and suffering, there are many remarkable stories of children and families determined to pursue their hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better future. They are adamant to safeguard their dignity.

Last year, some 12,600 school children crossed active conflict lines in Syria to sit for their final school exams. They came from hard-to-reach areas and some travelled for days. The bravery of children and teachers is extraordinary. They insist on learning by transforming basements, caves and old barns into schools and playgrounds. If enough desks are not available, children rotate the only available ones in makeshift schools or sit on the floor, determined, against all the odds, to learn.

In refugee host countries, governments have made significent commitments to provide every Syrian child with a place in school, with double shift schools, registration drives and catch up classes.

Children affected by the crisis in Syria continue to dream of a brighter future.

We asked a few of these children about the “Syria they want.” Rami (12) a refugee in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley said: “I wish to live in Syria again. I wish for the war to end and for wars all over the world to end. I wish for peace so every child can live in their country. I wish to become a teacher so I can teach the children in need.”

The dreams, hopes and aspirations of Syria’s children can come true if we continue to help them.

They are Syria’s future. We must support each and every child.

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