A generation of Syrian children may be “scarred for life” due to the unrelenting violence, displacement and damage to essential services caused by the Syrian conflict, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned in a report released today.
“As millions of children inside Syria and across the region witness their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict, the risk of them becoming a lost generation grows every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
Syria has been wracked by violence since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Up to 70,000 people have died, more than 1 million have fled to neighbouring countries, and 2 million have been internally displaced. UNICEF estimates that 2 million children have been affected across the region.
In its report, UNICEF stressed children are suffering the trauma of seeing family members and friends killed, while being terrified by the sounds and scenes of conflict.
Lack of access to basic services has resulted in increased skin and respiratory diseases and, in areas where the fighting is most intense, one in five schools have been destroyed or damaged. In Aleppo, for example, only 6 per cent of children are currently attending school. Hospitals and health centres have also been wrecked and their staff have fled, the agency said.
“We urge all parties to allow unhindered access to children affected by the violence – wherever they are,” said Mr. Lake. “We can only meet the growing needs of this crisis if we get the help we need today.”
Since the start of the crisis, UNICEF and its partners have focused on providing drinking water and sanitation, health, education and child protection services to displaced families inside Syria and in its neighbouring countries, where many have fled.
As a result, 4 million people inside the country now have access to safe drinking water, while mobile health teams have helped take measles and polio vaccinations to 1.5 million children. In addition, some 75,000 affected children are enrolled in school clubs where they can catch up on their lost education.
In Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, UNICEF is assisting more than 300,000 refugee children with services such as safe water, adequate sanitation, education, specialist care and protection from exploitation and abuse.
However, UNICEF said its efforts are threatened by a critical lack of funds. In December, the agency appealed for $195 million to provide life-saving assistance for Syrian children and their families until June 2013. To date, the appeal is less than 20 per cent funded.