The past ten years represent for millions of Syrians a decade of unspeakable suffering and hardship with more than 10 million forced to leave their homes, widespread destruction and now over 12 million Syrians dependent on aid. Syrian children have been the victims of some of the gravest human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks of schools, the use of children in war, displacement and denial of humanitarian access. The COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening economic situation has further led to more negative trends with an increase in school dropouts, child labour, early marriages, malnutrition and sexual-based violence. Despite all the suffering and despair, there were encouraging and clear messages of hope during the debate. One of the speakers Omar Alshogree highlighted “our generation is not lost, in fact, the older generation is the lost one. Now it is the younger generations turn to bring our future to peace.”
“Children have been the first victims of this horrific war and we have an entire generation of children who have known nothing but war: children who lost their parents, who have been displaced, who have died or have been injured when their schools were bombed, children or have been deprived of their childhood, their well-being and whose education has been put into jeopardy by this conflict,” highlighted Walter Stevens, Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva at the outset of the debate.
Before starting the panel discussion, Elaph Yassin, the founder of the shelter for Syrian orphans ‘Karim Home’, shared her six year long experience working with highly traumatised children. She also presented a video with voices of ‘her’ children. “Education is the only way out and it helped us to become who we are today. Education helps children dream of the future,” said Hala and Sana, two Syrian sisters who have been welcomed in Karim Home.
Ms Yassin referred to the cruel experiences these children have made for example general and sexual violence, losing parents, facing hunger or being kidnapped and forced to fight for ISIL. Elaph Yassin said, “Some of their stories are truly too cruel and painful to tell, but the stories of Karim Home only represent the stories 1000 of Syrian children have.” Through the opening of Karim Home already 200 children have been given the opportunity to live in a protected environment and receive education to equip them for a future.
Another inspiring experience was shared by Omar Alshogree. As a teenager, he participated in anti-government protests which lead to three years of detention and torture. “I was a kid. It was supposed to be the time where I should be in high school and later going to university. But in prison, I looked around and the people there were lawyers, doctors, engineers and psychologists. In this moment I realized if I don’t invest in my education now, I won’t be able to survive any day longer.” This was the start of the University of Whispers, where the inmates taught each other in secret. Omar stressed that education was key for his survival.
MENA Director of the European External Action Service, Carl Hallergard stressed in his speech the current situation of children in Syria, which drew an awful picture. The latest report by the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict spoke of 2,292 children victims of human rights violations, including 1454 killed or maimed and more than 1500 detained. Carl Hallergard highlighted “unfortunately the war is far from over and today, more than ever, Syrian children are at risk.” Also points out that “COVID-19 and the disastrous economic situation in Syria have made the situation worse and children are paying the heaviest price: school drop-outs, malnutrition, stutter, psychological trauma, child labour are all on the increase in Syria. Equally worrisome are the reports on an increase in early marriages and sexual-based violence, which indicate how girls and young women are disproportionally hit.”
To tackle the consequences of the war for children, Maimouna Alammar founded the Hurras Children Network which focuses on specific support for Syrian young adolescents in their pursuit of a perspective and future. Maimouna Alammar drew special attention to the impact of Hurras Network protecting children inside Syria from military recruitment, abusive labour and/or exploitation of any type. Since its establishment, Hurras has committed itself to work inside Syria during the worst stages of the conflict in order to deliver its services directly to children. Maimouna Alammar points out that “we need to seek more sustainable and multi-sectorial solutions”.
“It has been a decade with destructive impact on a whole generation of children who are deprived of their safety and normality,” stressed the MENA Director of the European Commission (ECHO), Andreas Papaconstantinou. He further described the EU’s supported education and emergency actions that take place in Syria and highlighted the EU’s belief that education is crucial and life-saving. “It provides hope, it equips with skills and lays the foundation for a better future”, Papaconstantinou pointed out.
Syrian children are facing severe challenges to have access to education. Sonia Khush is the Syria Response Director for Save the Children and drew special attention to the precarious situation of children’s education in Syria referring to the latest report “Anywhere But Syria: How 10 Years of Conflict Left Syria’s Displaced Children Without a Sense of Home”. To get a sense of what Syrian children truly need, Sonia Khush interviewed almost 2000 children.
Yasmine Sherif operates as the Director of the Education Cannot Wait Fund which works together with international organisations such as UNHCR, OCHA and grassroots organisations to reach Syrian children everywhere. They first started with a holistic approach in Lebanon to provide Syrian refugees with education. “But providing them with education means so much more than just literacy” Yasmine Sherif highlighted. The Education Cannot Wait Fund is giving Syrian refugees a safe space, protection, mental health support and sanitation. Yasmine Sherif points out that since 2017 they are operating within Syria, engaging with local NGOs to support children’s education. “We have reached 200.000 children and youth with formal and non-formal education until now”, Yasmine Sherif highlighted.
Dimiter Chalev, OHCHR Representative from the UN Human Rights Office for Syria focused in his presentation on access to school and attacks on school facilities, the issue of mental health and the impact of missing people on children. “Several generations of children are used to live with constant insecurity. The protective environment of children in Syria has been significantly compromised”, he referred. The extreme period of violence, detention, torture, losing parts of their families and the insecure environment has disrupted the daily lives of children in Syria, leaving them with fear. He referred to the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which proposes a child-centred approach, where crimes against children are sufficiently considered.
Watch the full event: https://fb.watch/4tzoy6YtnW/