The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Any human being with conscience would be rattled to hear about the plight of a generation of Syrian children who have been forced to face harrowing times much beyond words could explain.
Children hold a special place in any society. They are to be protected. All children have the right to live free from violence, which harms their physical and mental growth. None of us grow up to be man or woman without passing through that beautiful, carefree phase called childhood.
Unfortunately, nearly nine years of conflict in Syria have robbed boys and girls of their childhood and subjected them to unabated violations of their rights.
In Syria’s civil war, girls as young as nine have been raped and forced into sexual slavery. Boys have been tortured, forced into military training and ordered to carry out killings in public. Children have been targeted by sniper fire and used as bargaining chips to extract ransoms.
Those gruesome facts have been the focus of a new report by UN-backed investigators into the Syrian war, which for the first time looked solely on the plight of the children caught up in the conflict.
The group, known as the Commission of Inquiry for Syria, has been scrutinising and chronicling human rights violations since shortly after the conflict broke out in 2011.
In a 25-page report entitled “They have erased the dreams of my children,” the three-person Commission has clearly outlined the multiple rights violations children have been subjected to – including over five million children displaced internally and abroad.
The devastating situation of education in Syria is particularly highlighted as an area of concern.
Since the start of the conflict thousands of schools have been destroyed or used for military purposes and more than 2.1 million boys and girls are not regularly attending classes of any form.
Extremists from the Daesh group subjected girls as young as nine to “sexual slavery” while boys were recruited to fight in areas run by Al Qaeda-linked militants. Air strikes have devastated entire cities and towns.
As UN officials point out, the impact of the conflict on the long-term physical and mental health of boys and girls has been severe.
Today, large numbers of children suffer from disabilities as well as devastating psychological and development issues.
The words uttered by a mother in Idlib to UN officials reflect the extent of the trauma: “They have erased the dreams of my children. 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 flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties involved in the conflict is a matter of huge concern.
The Commission has correctly called on all sides to commit in writing to granting children special protection during wartime, in line with international law.
Other recommendations include ending child recruitment and taking child rights into consideration during military planning.
“States have well defined obligations to protect children. Failing to abide by such fundamental principles would be a clear derogation of duty,” as Commissioner Hanny Megally points out.
The panel’s recommendations for the warring sides, Syria’s government and the international community need to be addressed.
While the world attention remains focussed on the fight against COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Syria marked a grim milestone this weekend with the beginning of the tenth year of brutal war.
More than 400,000 people have been displaced in northwestern Syria over the past three months, the UN said on Friday, as the government presses an intensified bombardment of the opposition-held region.
A senior UN official called on Thursday for countries to take responsibility for their nationals stuck in a camp in Syria, including thousands of foreign children of Daesh group fighters.
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