Against the backdrop of peace talks on Syria which opened today in Switzerland, senior United Nations humanitarian officials have joined international aid organizations calling for the protection of Syrian children, 11,000 of whom have been killed and 4 million forced to flee their homes over the past three years.
“We believe the time has come to urgently focus on the plight of children,” read the open letter signed by 15 high-ranking officials, including UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos; Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Antonio Guterres at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR); Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ertharin Cousin of the World Food Programme (WFP).
They are joined by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and others, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who urgently call on the parties to the conflict to not target children.
“Every child in Syria who is hurt, or killed, or loses a loved one, represents yet another failure by the international community,” the signatories wrote, pledging to become champions for Syria’s children and speaking out on their rights at every opportunity.
They note that from shelling of residential areas to attacks on schools and hospitals, children are being targeted, many traumatized, hungry, and in urgent need of shelter and protection.
“Scandalously, aid cannot reach the children who need it the most,” they wrote. “Hundreds of thousands of children are trapped in conflict zones and are receiving little or no humanitarian assistance at all.”
The signatories call on the parties to commit to a three-point protection plan: do not prevent live-saving aid from reaching children; do not target or allow military use of schools or health facilities; and do not use explosive weapons in populated areas.
“An entire generation is being lost to violence,” the letter summarizes. “All of us bear the responsibility to save these children.”
Earlier this month, the UN and its humanitarian partners appealed for $1 billion to save Syrian children from becoming a “lost generation,” doomed by the civil war to a life of despair, diminished opportunities and broken futures.
The initiative calls for Governments, aid agencies the ordinary public to champion the children of Syria, where well over 100,000 people have been killed and 8 million others driven from their homes, 2 million of them as refugees in neighbouring countries, since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
The UN agencies and their partners said they would channel the $1 billion into programmes that, in partnership with Governments and local communities, deliver safe education, protection from exploitation, abuse and violence, psychological support, and offer more opportunities for social cohesion and stability in an already volatile region.