UNICEF's Middle East director warns against an increasing number of child soldiers
According to a report published by UNICEF, March 15th marked the 5 year anniversary of the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian five-year-old conflict has forced nearly two and a half million children to become refugees; Almost half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced by the war and forced to flee Syria. While thousands of children have been killed, and a lot more recruited as children fighters many of the kids grow into adolescence and adulthood orphaned, uneducated, unemployed and hungry.
“No place today is safe for Syria’s children,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Middle East director warned. He was speaking to the media during the launch of the organizations latest report on the Syrian conflict.
“A new and disturbing pattern of violations against children’s rights has emerged in the conflict,” Director Salama said, as youngsters have been killed and maimed, boys under age 15 have been forced into active combat, while still others have been exposed to siege and starvation.
Nearly seven million children in Syria live in poverty and are potential targets for recruitment by armed groups, Salama warned.
“This generation is at grave risk. Almost three million of these children are out of school,” Salama said. “If we don’t have them educated, we won’t have the next generation of people to rebuild Syria.”
Millions of children would have lost years of access to education and even once a truce is eventually reached, it will take decades for the country to recover.
12-year-old Saja who hopes to train as a gymnastics coach told UNICEF that she is trying to educate herself by reading, but she does not always understand everything in her books. She lost one of her legs in a bombing that killed several of her friends, despite her handicap, she is not deterred because she hopes to achieve something for herself in the future.
“It’s a struggle, but what can I do,” the young girl said.
Latest data from the European Union shows that the largest group of refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 is from Syria.
According to a report from UNICEF, since the war began in 2011, the number of children recruited by armed groups has surged. More than half the UNICEF- verified cases of children recruited in 2015 were younger than 15 compared to 20 percent in 2014.
UNICEF also emphasized child soldiers as a “particular concern”, saying an increasing number were being recruited to fight.
Children have been filmed executing prisoners in very graphic videos by the Islamic State group. Outside Syria, 306,000 Syrian children have been born as refugees. UN refugee agency UNHCR says nearly 70,000 Syrian refugee children have been born in Lebanon alone. UNICEF said 3.7 million children had been born since the conflict began, a third of all Syrian children.
Catholic agencies committed to helping families fleeing the conflict torn Middle-East and the UN have called for the support of hundreds of thousands of families who have been displaced or forced to flee their homes because of conflicts, civil strife and economic conditions in the Middle East.They have also called for an end to attacks on civilian infrastructure in Syria so that schools, hospitals and water supplies are kept safe. They also urge the immediate lifting of all sieges by all parties to the conflict.