Geneva Palais briefing note on children in Syria

This is a summary of what was said by Fran Equiza, UNICEF Representative in Syria – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

21 November 2019
Syria. Children stand on the back of a truck.

GENEVA, 21 November 2019 - "With more than 5 million children in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, including 2.6 million internally displaced children: the scale, severity and complexity of the crisis is staggering.

Killing, injuring and recruiting children - grave violations against child rights

"As of September, the UN has verified 1,792 grave violations against children’s rights this year alone. This includes killing, injuring, recruiting and abducting children and attacks against schools and health facilities.

"These figures show that children in Syria continue to be exposed to the same level of risk as they were in 2018. That year, 1,106 children were killed in fighting – the highest number of children killed in a single year since the start of the war. These are UN verified figures – actual figures are potentially much higher.

"This year does not look better for children.

"Killing and maiming remains the most prevalent violation against children in Syria, with 657 children killed and 324 injured between January and the end of September.

Northeast Syria

In the northeast of Syria, around 74,000 people - including an estimated 31,000 children - remain displaced. More than 15,000 people have fled to neighbouring Iraq.

At least 10 children have been killed and 28 maimed because of the fighting. Yesterday (Wednesday), three more children were injured when a shell hit a school in southern Tal Abiad. The school was housing 12 internally displaced families.

The hostilities have caused damage or closure of critical basic services facilities including schools, health and water facilities.

The recent wave of displacement comes in addition to more than 91,000 people residing in camps for the displaced, with over 90 per cent of the internally displaced people women and children.

Northeast Syria is home to some of the most vulnerable children in the country. One in five children are stunted in Deir-ez-Zor and A-Hasakeh governorates, while the national average is one in eight.

1.6 million people in the northeast of Syria are in acute need of water and sanitation assistance and more than half of the children are out of school.

Nearly 28,000 foreign children more than 60 different countries - including almost 20,000 from Iraq - remain trapped in the northeast, mostly in displacement camps.

At least 250 boys, some as young as nine years old, are held in detention, though the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

These children and tens of thousands of Syrian children are struggling to survive amid increasingly dire conditions in the area’s camps and detention centres. All of them are critically vulnerable and in need of protection from further harm and psychosocial support.  

Northwest Syria

In Idlib and northwest Syria, escalating hostilities have caused a high number of civilian casualties. Nineteen children have been reportedly killed in the past 17 days – and this doesn’t include casualties from the shelling near an IDP camp on the Turkish border on Wednesday that caused damage to a nearby maternity hospital. 

The UN has also reported that four separate health facilities have been damaged in attacks early November, including a women and children’s hospital and a surgical hospital in southern rural Idlib. Both have been put out of service due to attacks.

Access to health services for 185,000 people - at least 37,000 children - has been gravely impacted by the attacks. These hospitals were the last remaining health service delivery points between the subdistricts of Ariha and Kafr Nabel.


As of 18 November, around 12,000 people remain in the informal settlement at Rukban on the border with Jordan - almost half of them children.

The humanitarian situation in Rukban is critical, with extremely scarce food, health services and safe water.

Humanitarian access to Rukban has been extremely constrained. Since November 2018, humanitarian assistance has been provided to Rukban through three inter-agency convoys. The most recent convoy delivered food assistance sufficient for almost 3,000 families for one month and nutrition supplies. Assistance was provided directly to beneficiaries.

With winter rapidly approaching, it is critical that parties to the conflict facilitate humanitarian access to all reach children in need wherever they are in the country and no matter who controls the area they are in.

Across Syria

In areas where hostilities have subsided the impact of the prolonged crisis is even more apparent. Large-scale vulnerabilities, limited services, damaged schools and infrastructure present an almost insurmountable hurdle for children and their families in these areas.

For children, needs go beyond the rehabilitation of physical infrastructure. After years of witnessing the horrors of conflict, Syria’s children need schools and communities where they not only learn but also heal and become active participants in re-stitching the social fabric and bringing back a culture of tolerance and diversity.

UNICEF Response highlights across Syria and Funding Status

To date, across Syria UNICEF has reached

  • over 2 million people with improved water supply and 1 million people with emergency WASH interventions (this includes family hygiene kits, soap and aqua water purification tabs).
  • over 1.2 million children and community members with mine risk education and 11,751 children with specialized services.
  • over 7,400 children with disabilities cash assistance and case management services. For 2019-2020 Winter UNICEF will be able to reach 356,000 with winter clothing kits.
  • UNICEF reached 1.3 million children with formal education and 221,000 children with non-formal education.

With just six weeks left to go in the year, UNICEF’s emergency operations in Syria are about 60 per cent funded. Of the $295 million required in 2019, we have received around $180 million.

Media contacts

Joe English
Tel: +1 917 893 0692
Juliette Touma
Tel: +962 79 867 4628


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