Suffering in Syria

Despite a report issued in June 2012 by the United Nations (UN) secretary-general to the UN security council and endorsed by groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), internal conflict in Syria – which began in 2011 with the Bashar al-Assad regime crackdown on protests – is still devastating the lives of children. Violations against youngsters include targeted killings at schools, the torture of children in detention, the abduction of children, sexual violence against children and the use of children as human shields and child soldiers.

The Syria Violations Documentation Centre activist group reports that over 2 000 children have been victims of both progovernment militias and rebel groups since 2011. Children have been the victims of summary executions and boys as young as 13 have been severely beaten, shocked, burned with cigarettes and left to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time. Children have been kept in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment and adequate food and water, and both girls and boys have been raped.

HRW says further that ‘security forces’ have arrested children at schools, and have used schools across the country for military purposes, including as detention centres, sniper posts and military bases or barracks. One in five schools across the country has been destroyed, estimates HRW, adding that it has documented multiple accounts by witnesses that Syrian government forces have used large-calibre machine guns, tanks, mortars and explosive weapons to fire indiscriminately on buildings and people in the street, killing civilians, including children.

Displacement also affects children in Syria: some 800 000 under the age of 14 have been separated from their homes and families. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it is running out of the money needed to assist children and women affected by the conflict. After June 2013, UNICEF says it will no longer be able to provide clean water, psychological intervention, measles and polio vaccination campaigns, life-saving neonatal care and emergency medical care.

Says UNICEF chief, Anthony Lake, “Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict.” Lake says that nearly half of the four million in dire need of aid inside Syria are under the age of 18, and 536 000 of them are children under the age of five.

Category: Winter 2013

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