The conflict in Syria has raged for nearly six years, leaving 13.5 million people in need of urgent life-saving assistance, including 6 million children. UNICEF has been on the ground in Syria throughout the conflict, providing children with access to clean water and sanitation, medical supplies, health, nutrition and education, among other things. No matter how desperate the situation, we remain undeterred in our mission to put children first.
It is a difficult number to fathom — still 500,000 children living in besieged areas — the number has doubled in less than one year. Living in terror among air strikes and barrel bombs, growing up to the sounds of soldiers and warring factions on their streets, they have seen their houses, schools and playgrounds destroyed, and, unfortunately, many of them have lost family and friends. As these children sit in dark basements, reading and writing by candlelight, they might still believe in a world that cares enough to stop their suffering. We need to ensure that these children stay alive, but equally important, we need to protect that flicker of hope.
The haunting cries of five-year-old Rawan Alowsh, pulled alive from rubble in Aleppo by her ponytail, have reminded the world once again that behind the politics of Syria’s civil war are millions of vulnerable children. Government air strikes in recent days have pounded rebel-held areas of Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are trapped. Britain’s permanent representative to the UN said the attacks had “unleashed a new hell on Aleppo”, which he described as war crimes. In the middle of the conflict there are at least 100,000 children, aid agencies estimate. Save the Children warned that approximately half the casualties being treated in eastern Aleppo were children. It said injured children were dying on the floors of hospitals due to shortages of equipment and medicines.
In just one recent four-week period (mid-September to mid-October) something like 120 children were killed by the barrel bombing and air strikes in east Aleppo. That’s an average of four or five children killed every day. In just east Aleppo. It’s an absolute tragedy and nothing can justify it. The wider situation for children in Syria is beyond bleak. Thousands have already been killed (there don’t even seem to be accurate figures), around 2.7m are not going to school (there have been thousands of attacks on school buildings), and something like eight million children have been growing up knowing nothing but conflict. What a generational disaster.
About half of the nearly five million refugees who have fled Syria are children. But eight million children remain in the war-torn country, according to Unicef. In eastern Aleppo, Save the Children estimates about 40% of the besieged population are children. While this means the recent casualty numbers it reported appear to be roughly proportionate with the population, it is out of step with what should be happening in a war zone. In war, you should expect to see a much higher population of adult males being killed in frontline action, Ms Anning says. “But what we have seen in Aleppo in the last couple of days is totally indiscriminate bombing from the air,” she says. “So children are impacted just as much or more than adults in those situations.” These tactics, combined with a continued siege preventing anyone from leaving the area, has created one of the worst situations for Syrian children in more than five years of war.