World Children’s Day | SOHR: “We will never accept exploitation of Syrian children and using them as human shields”
Syrian children have been affected the most by the extreme violence during the protracted war in Syria, where they have been hard hit with starvation, thirst, diseases, pandemics and inhabited in very worn and plastic tents that have neither protected them from freezing temperature nor extremely hot weather. Moreover, Syrian children have endured unbearable violence and exploitation since the onset of the Syrian Revolution in 2011.
On November 20, people around the world mark the World Children’s Day and celebrate the efforts exerted by international authorities to provide protection for children and defend their rights, so that they are not been oppressed and exploited. However, those efforts remain inefficient in conflict zones around the world, such as in Syria where children have experienced tragic conditions.
Since early 2023, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented the death of 295 children by all conflicting powers in all zones of influence across Syria.
It is worth noting that the largest death toll among children since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution was documented in 2016 when 3,583 Syrian children were killed in military battles and acts of violence. During the past years, SOHR documented scores of massacres against children committed by different powers involved in Syria’s war.
According to SOHR statistics, nearly 23,877 Syrian children were killed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011 until 2022. This large number is unrefuted evidence of the use of children as tools of the war in full view of the entire world which turned a blind eye to the horrific crimes committed against Syrian children.
It seems that this day, November 20 which was chosen by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954 to bring to mind the world of the rights of children, has been turned in Syria into a tragic memory reminding Syrians of the massive number of casualties.
On this day, we, at SOHR, call for working on healing injured Syrians and patients who have been besieged in their homeland where they have been robed of their rights to live and labeled as “terrorists.”
Not only have Syrian children struggled with poverty and starvation, but also they have fallen victims of recruitment by rebel factions and extremist organisations.
An example, among many, was ISIS exploitation of the situation in Syria, where the organisation brainwashed and recruited hundreds of boys and threw them to military battles. ISIS also abused girls who fell victims of the so-called “Jihad Al-Nikah” (sexual jihad).
Moreover, many families forced their young daughters to marry at young ages in order to get rid of their responsibilities, including securing food, drink and clothes. Many human rights and media reports have documented shocking stories of little girls who became mothers at very young ages, at a time when they were supposed to attain education at schools.
On the other hand, tens of new-born babies are left almost daily in dumpsters and on roads in all zones of influence, as their families abandon them, after having engaged in illegal relationships without marriage or for other reasons, such as having been unable to secure infant formula for them and other financial reasons.
Meanwhile, the large number of armed powers engaged in the conflict makes it difficult to hold certain parties responsible for each crime or violation against children human rights and bring them to refer them to international courts. Since the beginning of the war, children in all zones of influence have been used by different powers as bargaining chips for achieving specific goals.
In the meantime, the phenomenon of kidnapping children and releasing them for ransoms has recently been rampant in different areas across Syria in the past few years.
Sadly, all conferences and meetings, which have been hosted and staged by several countries around the world for years, have never handled the humiliation and violations committed by the ruling authorities and by the society against Syrian children and no parties have taken the cause of the marginalisation of children seriously.
According to UNICEF, there are nearly 12 million Syrian children in need of urgent humanitarian assistance with the outbreak of pandemics posing a threat the safety and lives of thousands of them, especially those inhabiting refugee camps which lack the minimum standards of health and medical care.
We stress that defending the rights of children and highlighting their plight in front of the regional and international community with the aim of improving their social and economical situations top SOHR’s priorities, and we see that it is time to handle the cause of violations against Syrian children more seriously in order to reach a solution putting an end to their sufferings.
We also call upon all relevant authorities and organisations to intensify their visits to camps hosting children to check their situation and provide all possible assistance.
SOHR would like to bring to mind the international community of the cause of the foreign children who are held in Al-Hawl camp and calls for exerting diligent efforts to rehabilitate and raise the awareness of those children who have been fallen victims to extremist and violent ideologies. We emphasise that a strategy must be set by international powers to repatriate their little citizens and help them to pass their plight.
SOHR stresses that the situation on the ground totally contravenes the terms of international laws and conventions on children, although Damascus had signed those conventions decades ago, while the escalating violence and proliferation of arms have exacerbated the situation further.
We, at SOHR, call for keeping children away from all political and military conflicts and accelerating procedures to bring all criminals, perpetrators and those who aided and abetted crimes against children to justice.
We also demand all conflicting powers in Syria to comply with the international laws protecting the rights of children, and to stop brainwashing children, instilling extremist ideologies into them and recruiting them to military formations.
SOHR deals and sides with all children who have been struggling with armed conflicts, starvation, poverty and marginalisation around the world.