A UN report has revealed the effect that the ongoing civil war in Syria is having on children.
Millions of children in Syria have been subjected to “unabated violations of their rights” during nine years of conflict, the study from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria concludes.
The wrongs perpetrated against children include torture, rape, sexual slavery, displacement, grievous injury, and forcing them to fight. Many have also been killed, although the commission no longer provide figures for deaths because it is has long been blocked from entering Syria to verify them.
It estimates, however, that at least five million Syrian children have been internally displaced, and 2.1 million are no longer receiving any form of education.
“I am appalled by the flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties involved in the conflict,” the chairman of the Commission, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, said.
“While the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has the primary responsibility for the protection of boys and girls in the country, all of the actors in this conflict must do more to protect children and preserve the country’s future generation.”
The Commission was given the task of monitoring human-rights abuses in Syria shortly after the civil war began in 2011. The latest report, They Have Erased the Dreams of My Children, is a quote from a woman interviewed in 2012 after her village in Idlib province was attacked.
Thousands of victims, witnesses, survivors, and experts have been interviewed since 2011 to produce the report. Among the stories told are many that emphasise the brutality and inhumanity of life in Syria during the war.
One boy, who witnessed the murder of everyone in his family, said: “I realized that my brother was shot in the head and neck. I witnessed how his soul left his body.”
A man who was part of an armed group taking part in the hostilities is quoted as saying that children are good fighters: “They fight with enthusiasm and are fearless. Fighters who are 14 to 17 years old are on the frontline.”
The report also shows a gender divide: girls are suffering disproportionately, in particular from sexual violence. Many young women have also been confined to their homes, removed from school, and prevented from accessing health care.
Children’s mental health has also been affected by the conflict. Many of those who have managed to escape physical injury have suffered serious psychological harm and developmental difficulties because of the horrors they have experienced.
The mother in Idlib told the commission: “They have destroyed what we have built during our whole life: my daughter was so depressed when she found out that our house was burnt down. My other child, a three-year-old boy, is traumatised by the crisis. He is continuously drawing tanks.”
The Commission has demanded that all sides in the civil war promise, in writing, to honour the rights of children under international law, and end all recruitment of under-18s to fight. It also calls on governments beyond Syria to abide by their obligations to displaced children.