Global perspective Human stories

Syria: Prolonged violence, violation and abuse ‘bound to affect generations to come’ 

Children wait for food distribution during the COVID-19 crisis in Aleppo, Syria.
© WFP/Jessica Lawson
Children wait for food distribution during the COVID-19 crisis in Aleppo, Syria.

Syria: Prolonged violence, violation and abuse ‘bound to affect generations to come’ 

Peace and Security

Millions of children trapped in protracted conflict in Syria continue to endure severe violence with little support for survivors, according to the UN Secretary-General’s third report on the situation, launched on Wednesday.  

“In Syria, all children below the age of 10 have lived their entire life in a country ravaged by conflict. They have known nothing but war”, said Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

This latest report covers the two-year period in which the COVID-19 pandemic hit and related-restrictions were imposed – making children more vulnerable, while impeding the work of humanitarians.  

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Prioritize children 

The actual number of grave violations is believed to be higher than the 4,724 verified in the report. And at least 32 parties to conflict were found responsible for them. 

“The consequences of such prolonged exposition to violence, to the violation and abuse of their most fundamental rights and to enormous stress, are dramatic”, said the UN expert. “It is bound to affect generations to come”.  

Refugee camps 

The killing, maiming, recruitment and use of children were the most prevalent grave violations verified, according to the report. 

Between July 2018 and June 2020, airstrikes, explosive remnants of war and indiscriminate shelling, maimed or took the lives of more than 2,700 children. 

During that same time, more than 1,400 children were recruited or used by at least 25 parties to conflict.  

Particularly concerning was the emerging trend of transnational recruitment whereby children were enlisted and trained in Syria before being trafficked to Libya to participate in hostilities, all by armed groups.  

Attacks on schools and hospitals was the third most verified violation, with 236 assaults on classrooms and 135 on medical facilities. 

Liberty denied 

Citing 258 verified cases, the report also revealed that children have also been detained, for their alleged or actual association with parties to conflict.  

The Special Representative reminded that children must be treated primarily as victims with detention to be used only as a last resort, and for the shortest period possible. Alternatives must be sought in line with international standards for juvenile justice. 

Ms. Gamba underscored that it was of “the utmost importance” to prioritize the rights and needs of boys and girls, including in the protracted Syria peace talks, “to avoid a lost generation”. 

Repatriate boys and girls 

The report highlighted an extremely concerning humanitarian situation in al-Hol and al-Roj camps where more than 65,000 are being held, the vast majority women and children.  

Children below the age of 10...have known nothing but war -- UN Special Representative Gamba

In conditions that Emergency Relief Coordinator and UN Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has called “scandalous”, at least 960 unaccompanied and separated children are among 11,000 foreign nationals being held there. 

Ms. Gamba said countries should “facilitate and prioritize the repatriation of foreign children to their country of origin”, in line with the best interests of the child.  

Reminding that they have lost a huge part of their childhood, she said that “these boys and girls must be provided with assistance in reintegration, education, access to health and to livelihoods”. 

“It is our common responsibility to give it back to them so they can recover and thrive in a safe and protective environment where they can build a future away from violence”. 

The Special Representative reiterated the Secretary-General’s call to all parties to abide by international humanitarian law and human rights law, to better protect children in Syria and to ensure that their well-being is a core part of the ongoing discussions and peace process.