Syria has Become One of the Most Dangerous Places to be a Child

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, March 12, 2014

Statement of Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Geneva, 12 March 

“After three years of conflict, Syria has become one of the most dangerous places to be a child.

I visited Syria twice since the outbreak of the conflict. I have met the families of some of the 10,000 children that have died since the beginning of the conflict. I spoke to parents who narrowly escaped bombardments. With their houses destroyed, their communities transformed into battlefields, they have been forced to enter a life full of fear and uncertainty. Today, there are entire towns and villages on the run inside Syria. Six and a half million men, women and children are internally displaced, in search of safety inside their own country. In neighbouring countries, half of the 2.5 million refugees are children. The number of children affected by the conflict has more than doubled over the past year.

In hospitals outside Syria, I met children recovering from gunshot wounds, explosion and shrapnel injuries. Their parents kept repeating how lucky they were to have made it across the border because, they said, access to even the most basic healthcare inside Syria was nearly impossible.

I met young boys approached to join the fight, and others who felt it was their duty to take up arms. Everywhere I went, mothers and fathers had the same request: help us send our children back to school. Three million are deprived of the chance to get an education, many for the third year in a row.

Prior to the conflict, 500,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Syria. Some of their communities are under siege. Palestinians fleeing Syria are faced with added uncertainty by virtue of their stateless status.

I pay tribute to the Governments throughout the region that have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria but are now struggling to provide adequate assistance to these communities.

During my first visit to Syria in December 2012, I pushed for the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism. If we are to hold perpetrators accountable, we must collect reliable information on all grave violations committed against children in Syria. When I went back six months later, the Government committed to setting up an Inter-ministerial Committee to address violations committed against children in coordination with the United Nations.

I have also engaged with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council, who have sought the United Nations’ assistance to end the recruitment and use of children in their ranks.

This is a sign of progress. But we need more, much more. Three years after the beginning of the war, the crisis keeps getting worse and we risk losing an entire generation of children.

The children of Syria desperately need to see an end to this appalling conflict.
Grave violations against children are committed by Government forces and opposition groups. I urge all parties to respect international humanitarian law and put an end to all violations against children, including – but not limited to – the killing and maiming of children, recruitment and use of children as well as ceasing all attacks on schools and hospitals and allowing unimpeded humanitarian access.

Schools and hospitals cannot be battlegrounds. Depriving the children of Syria of their right to health and education is not only depriving them of a basic human right, it is jeopardizing their future and the future of Syria.

Too many children in besieged or hard to reach areas are still not getting the lifesaving humanitarian assistance they are entitled to.

The international community recognizes that the toll on Syria’s youngest is beyond unacceptable.

The UN Security Council has consistently ensured that protecting children is at the heart of its peace and security agenda. I now call on the Council to unite to protect the children of Syria.”