SOHR exclusive | Syrian children in all zones of influence badly hit with scourges of protracted war while international community keeps turning a blind eye to blatant violations
SOHR continues its appeals to defend children rights and keep them away from military actions
With a war which has been raging for over 11 years, no one optimistically thinks that people in Syria will enjoy decent standards of living in the near future. Instead of playing with toys, many Syrian children play with unexploded projectiles, rockets and shells, with marks of their loved ones’ blood remaining on the walls of their devastated houses. While many others have abandoned their dreams to become doctors and engineers and await the chance to be able to take up arms, so that people may fear them. Such “depraved” dreams can be considered a by-product of the war in Syria.
Syrian children’s situation
Too much money has been spent with the aim of fuelling the Syrian crisis through armament operations by all warring parties, as well as the limited humanitarian assistance and fruitless researches and studies. On the other hand, the devastating and protracted war in Syria and all conflicting players, who only pursue their narrow interests, have impeded all attempts to fund and support improvement of the country’s education and economy. Containing shocking statistics, many reports summarising key developments for a decade of war in Syria have been recently circulated. According to statistics by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 25, 370 children have been killed since the onset of the Syria crisis in 2011. Among the total death toll, 339 children under the age of eighteen died under torture in regime prisons, while thousands were killed in bombardment on refugee camps, civilian houses and schools. With losing their basic rights enshrined in all international laws, mainly the right to live, children in Syria have been struggling with a disastrous situation.
On the other hand, the Syrian Observatory has been all along warning against the recruitment of children and attempts to draw them into military actions by allowing/persuade them to join rebel and extremist organisations and armed groups. It is worth noting that Syria has topped the list of countries with the largest number of young recruits. Moreover, girls were also recruited by almost-all warring parties, where some have been used as informants and spies while others have been “enslaved.”
It is worth noting that Syria was labelled, in 2019, as the most dangerous country ever for children because of the high rate of violence against children, early and forcible marriage, deprivation of education, security chaos and forcible displacement.
Children in need of humanitarian assistance
According to a report issued in early 2022 by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), nearly 90% of Syrian children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Sadly, this ratio increases a year after another. This report also clarified that over one million Syrian children suffered from dwarfism caused by malnutrition. In addition, three million Syrian children dropped out of school, according to the report.
Earlier UNICEF reports highlighted that the number of Syrian children who sought refuge in the neighbouring countries, which host 83% of the total number of Syrian refugees around the world, reached 2.5 million children. Accordingly, these children are struggling with considerable pressure and difficulties which negatively affected them physically and mentally.
Children face considerable challenges in all zones of influence
Many children in regime-controlled areas have failed to attain education, and they found themselves forced to work at young age. Accordingly, many of these children have been exploited by their employers, while others turned to make a career of begging to earn their living.
On the other hand, the economic hardship and international sanctions, which have been imposed on the Syrian regime and badly impacted ordinary Syrian people only, have played a significant role in impeding the provision of basic livelihood which families have failed to secure in light of increasing unemployment and lack of resources following the closure of many institutions which have been hit by the crisis. Moreover, the currency plunge has exacerbated the dire living conditions further and hungered Syrians. All these factors have already affected children and made them face unpleasant present and uncertain future.
Furthermore, Iranian-backed militias have been exploiting poor and powerless children with the help of affiliated “charities” which claim that they provide support to children with an unannounced goal manifested in impressing and recruiting these children under a systematic plan. Similar techniques and long-term schemes have been adopted in Iraq and Lebanon.
The Syrian Observatory has been all along warning against such evil plans and their unwelcome repercussions which will affect Syria’s future and unity. We, at SOHR, renew our warnings against Iran’s strategy to lure and recruit children and young people.
The situation of children in areas under the control of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and opposition factions in Idlib city and surrounding villages is disastrous, as violent military operations by Russian and regime forces throughout Syria have forced too many children and their families to displace from their cities, towns and villages to a very small geographical area in Idlib. In this overpopulated area, children live in rudimentary tents, are deprived from education and forced to work to earn their living and secure their families’ needs. Not to mention the recruitment operations—which SOHR highlighted frequently in earlier reports—which serve jihadist groups, mainly Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (former Jabhat Al-Nusra).
In areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration, tension has dramatically increased in light of the current propaganda about launching a military operation by Turkish forces in these areas, which could lead to a new mass exodus, after many families having been forced to displace from their areas during “Olive Branch” and “Peace Spring” operations.
In earlier reports, SOHR pointed out the dangerous repercussions of involving children into military conflicts, where children have been the category affected by exploitation the most during the conflict. Exploitation of children has manifested itself in several sectors, mainly the ongoing recruitment of children by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” (the Revolutionary Youth) to engage them into military actions among the warring powers.
SOHR has frequently warned against the increasing operations of recruitment of children by “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” which abet these children to attack headquarters of parties and official institutions and engage into acts of sabotage. The increasing recruitment operations have ignited public anger, while many families have complained of the kidnapping of their children and involving them in such pernicious plans.
Areas under the control of Turkish-backed factions
The Syrian Observatory has been all along warning against the ongoing attempts by Turkish-backed factions to recruit children and throw them in military battles against regime forces and Syria Democratic Forces, as well as sending them to Libya to join fighting alongside Turkish forces.
It is worth noting that poverty was been a major reason behind recruitment of children in all zones of conflict.
With the protracted war and ongoing conflict, thousands of children have lost or cannot get ID documents, especially children who were born in refugee camps or in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime and those who lost their fathers. Accordingly, these children have been robbed of several rights, such as education; this, in turn, will lead to the emergence of a whole illiterate generation.
According to UN statistics, nearly 2.45 million children in Syria and 750,000 other Syrian children living in neighbouring countries have failed to attain education, with 40% of the total number being girls. These serious factors bring children under dominance of extremist ideologies and feed violence and militancy.
SOHR has confirmed that the situation of children in Syria remains catastrophic, despite all international laws and conventions which the Syrian government has signed and agreed on, especially since Syrian children are subjected to all methods of humiliation, violence and exploitation in light of the lack of monitoring and predominance of war lords on all state institutions.
Threats posed by the current armed conflict cannot be confined to their direct impact, as the future repercussions of killing, displacement, successive crises and unstable security situation will be much disastrous.
With the tragic situation of children in Syria, we, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):
- Affirm our advocacy to the cases of children’s rights.
- Renew our appeals to keep children away from all conflicts and military actions and put an end to recruitment operations.
- Call for bringing everyone involved in recruiting children or any violations committed against children to justice.
- Demand reconstruction of schools which have been destroyed in military battles.
- Call for helping children affected by the conflict through launching online platforms so that children can cope with current crises.
- Reaffirm that the stable security, political and economic situations are main pillars needed to rehabilitate the current generation which has been struggling with psychological and social issues.
- Appeal to accelerating the rehabilitation process of the current generation.