The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Syria’s children: an awkward present and uncertain future

*Syrian crisis’s impact on  children


It seems that security chaos and conflict, which have yet to come to an end in Syria, do not only jeopardise national security, development and humanitarian situation, but are also  in the process of destroying and deforming the future of a whole generation. Syrian children have suffered  the horrors of war and its repercussions for nearly nine years, since the start of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. The deadly conflict has left more than 370,000 civilians dead, caused significant destruction of infrastructure, and displaced more than half of population inside and outside Syria. Such reading puts the Syrian war among the worst in the world since the II World War.


Through several reports, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the sufferings of Syrian children, especially in northern and north-western Syria, disclosing how disastrous the situation of these children is, as well as the repercussions which put their lives and future at risk.



*Children of Syria: the ultimate losers!


In light of the rapid developments in Syria, the growing suffering of Syrian children is manifested in the following:



-Deprivation of education and school dropout


Education is a sector which has sustained the largest share of damage and destruction due to bombardment and displacement, with a large number of displaced people being children, and Idlib is a case in point, where children are either dropping out or stay in education but facing obstacles hindering their education. The Syrian Observatory believes  that the reasons behind these obstacles are attributed to several factors, chief among them are:


  • Lack of schools in refugee camps.


  • The long distance between camps and schools.


  • Poverty which makes families unable to buy school supplies such as uniform and stationary.


  • The high cost of traveling because of fuel shortage, as 70% of children go to schools in Armanaz and Kafr Takharim towns which are several kilometres away from the refugee camps, and with no transportation readily available.


  • Lack of ID and supportive documents for some children.


  • The interruption of support to educational organizations, especially in northern Syria.


  • Poorly qualified personnel and institutions.


  • The fact that some girls leave school and drop out during the basic education period for early marriage, in order to ease the burdens on their families.


In September 2019, the Syrian Observatory confirmed that “Save the Children” charity  warned that thousands of children in north-western Syria were at risk of being deprived of education due to the military escalation in the area. The organization reported at that time that 635 schools out of 1,193 were still in service, 353 schools were destroyed or evacuated, while 205 others were turned into refugee centres for displaced people. It is worth noting that the remaining schools have no capacity to accommodate 300,000 children out of some 650,000 school-age children.


On December 12, 2019, Syrian Observatory activists monitored people of the SDF-controlled village of Al-Jerthi Al-Sharqi in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor participating in a demonstration, protesting the dire situation of education, lack of teachers, teaching of non-purposeful curriculum, and low performance of schools in general.



-Medical care: Poor performance and medicine shortages


As conflicts and disorder continue, the spread of diseases is increasing, and the health and well-being of Syrian children has seen a notable deterioration, bringing the death rate to its highest levels. This situation is attributed to several factors:


  • The poor living conditions, especially since displacement movement is on the rise, worsening the inhumane situation in light of the lack of medicine, medical equipment and supplies.


  • Malnutrition which has been caused by the consumption of contaminated food and drinking water, as well as severe shortages in some areas.


  • Inaction of several international organizations which provide very little help and support to displaced people and seem satisfied with issuing PR statements and press releases.


  • Corruption and looting of relief aid allocated for refugees.


According to SOHR statistics, over 488 children have died in Al-Hawl camp, dubbed “Death Camp”, because of the poor living and health conditions, medicine and food shortages and the acute lack of medical care. Al-Hawl camp is one of the largest camps in the east Euphrates region and Syria, with some 70,000 displaced people live in it, most have come from areas that used to be under the control of the “Islamic State”.


In connection to this, several diseases, which pose a threat to children’s lives, have spread in many areas and camps. In 2014, poliomyelitis spread in north-eastern Syria because of the lack of vaccines. SOHR has also cited the World Health Organization’s warning and concern considering the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, especially with the deteriorating living conditions and unavailability of any precautionary measures in many areas and in refugee camps in particular. 



-Stateless Children


With nearly 5 million displaced children inside and outside Syria, a large number of children have lost or cannot get ID documents, especially children who were born in refugee camps or in areas under the control of jihadi organizations. Such factors have left many people stateless, with no nationality, especially since legal services and birth registration departments have been closed in the most contested areas, which, in turn, deprived these people of other rights such as education.



-Conscription and recruiting children as mercenaries


Reliable sources have informed the Observatory that the Turkish government is recruiting Syrian children under the age of eighteen.

These children go from Idlib and north Aleppo countryside to Afrin, pretending to search for work. Some of them have left to Afrin even without telling their families. Turkish-backed factions in Afrin recruit these children and send them to fight in Libya, by issuing fake IDs for these children with false information about their dates and places of birth.


SOHR sources reported previously that nearly 200 children were sent to Libya, including 18 children killed in military operations.


It is worth nothing that the Islamic State had recruited a large number of Syrian children in several Syrian provinces in its ranks under the name of “Cubs of the Caliphate” which made up to 40% of the group’s total fighters.


In 2014, the group recruited more than 4,000 children in Deir ez-Zor province, nearly 600 of whom were killed, prompting the Syrian Observatory to demand an end to child recruitment in various areas of control in Syrian territory, and the demobilization of all children with military forces, in accordance with international law that criminalize the recruitment of children.



-Illegal employment


As the crisis continues, Syrians and their children have been forced to flee the country searching for a new home in several countries. According to UN statistics in 2016, the number of Syrian children who crossed the border as refugees exceeded one million, and more than two thirds of this number are under the age of eleven. Many children have been illegally exploited in the labour market, and  refugee children in their host countries are often exploited in forced labour for low wages, as employers know well that children and their parents are unable to file complaints or take legal action.


Moreover, children are being used to collect plastic and metal from refuse bins and sell them to  recycling factories for small amounts of cash. Other children have been exploited in illegal acts which harm children and their families.



-The growing phenomenon of street children and begging


The Syrian Observatory has obtained information indicating that the rates of poverty and deprivation among Syrians and their children have increased, which  led to a deterioration in living conditions, especially in the north where the Syrian pound has plummeted, and dramatic rise in the prices of foodstuffs has occurred.


Furthermore, the deterioration of the economy in general has also pushed children to the streets, begging and foraging for food in garbage bins, as well as the worsening phenomenon of homelessness combined with the street children, especially in Jaramana in the capital Damascus, as many of them lost their homes and families due to ongoing conflicts.


On the other hand,  gangs also exploit street children to make money and force them to carry out suspicious activities. As a result, many of these children turn into addicts and engage in acts of violence and crimes.



-Early marriage and sexual abuse


With the terrible circumstances endured by Syrians, some families force their young girls and daughters to marry early, thereby dropping out of school and becoming illiterate.


In 2017, the Syrian Observatory revealed in a report that one of three marriages of Syrian refugees in Jordan includes a girl under the age of eighteen, as well as sexual  harassment and exploitation,  and kidnapping experienced by male and female children, particularly in areas controlled by jihadist factions.



-Psychological disorders and mental illnesses


The war and conflicts experienced by the Syrian children, environmental factors surrounding refugees, unstable lifestyles and changes they experience make them more vulnerable to psychological disorders and mental illnesses such as depression, introversion and withdrawal, suicidal tendencies and self-harm and so on, particularly when they are subjected to direct violence through arrests, killings, bombings, recruitment, kidnapping and assault, which in turn, cause intractable traumas that require a long time for treatment.


The Observatory has obtained information from a medical study by the International Medical Corps, conducted in health centres which it supports in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey,  showing that 26.6% of refugee children suffer from epilepsy, 26.6% suffer from brain and mental developmental disorders, while 3.6% suffer from severe emotional disorders.


The organizations and concerned parties do not provide psychotherapy but are limited to physical therapy if  available, which contribute to the worsening the psychological well-being  of  Syrian children.


Furthermore, lack of public awareness of mental health in general, and lack of financial resources to provide psychotherapy, and limited and inadequate psychological support programmes for recovery, make it impossible for affected children to  overcome psychological traumas.



 -An unknown  future


As the Syrian crisis continues with all the fighting, conflict, forced displacement, Syrian children are the biggest losers and the real victims of the crisis. They are the ones who have experienced the harsh impacts of this crisis, which have put their future on the line: life in shelters and camps, psychologically marred childhood, poverty, squalor and life without basic rights of education and physical well-being. The children of Syria are the embodiment of the Syrian tragedy.

Therefore, we, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renew our call to the international community, the United Nations and the Security Council to intervene  to protect the rights of Syrian children, to end their suffering and the egregious violations committed  against them and their childhood and to intervene to release all detained and recruited children and to implement programmes for their physical and psychological recovery, in addition to protecting the educational institutions and schools and criminalizing their deliberate targeting. A solution must be found for stateless  children and criminalising  early marriage, and establishing care homes in safe areas for homeless children must be a priority.