Francine Uenuma 202.450.9153
WESTPORT, Conn. (March 13, 2013) – Two million children trapped inside Syria are innocent victims of a bloody conflict that has already claimed 70,000 lives, Save the Children warned Wednesday, saying that these children are under constant risk of malnutrition, disease, trauma and early marriage.
In a new report, Childhood Under Fire, launched to mark two years of violence in Syria, Save the Children details the impact of the conflict on children, showing that many are struggling to find enough to eat; are living in barns, parks and caves; are unable to go to school with teachers having fled and schools being attacked; and that damage to sanitation systems is forcing some children to defecate in the street.
Citing new research carried out amongst refugee children by Bahcesehir University in Turkey, the report also reveals the extent to which children have been directly targeted in the war, with one in three children reporting having been hit, kicked or shot at.
Combined with the breakdown of society in parts of the country and more than three million people displaced, the conflict has led to the collapse of childhood for millions of youngsters.
"Childhood under Fire" details how some young boys are being used by armed groups as porters, runners and human shields, bringing them close to the frontline, while some girls are being married off early to 'protect' them from a widely-perceived threat of sexual violence.
The report's key findings are:
Thousands of children are facing malnutrition as food production is wiped out and severe shortages take hold. "Why did we leave? Hunger. Food. There was none. No bread. If I stayed my children would have died from hunger," – Rami, father of three.
Millions of children have been forced from their homes and tens of thousands are living in parks, barns and caves. "There were 13 of us in total, crammed into one room. We did not leave that room for two weeks."- Yasmine, 12.
Girls are being married off early in an effort to protect them from perceived threat of sexual violence. "My daughter is 16 and she loved school. She is innocent and very pretty. I know that men are hurting women. We could not protect her, so we had to marry her. We needed her to have a protector." - Um Ali, mother of two.
Families have been left without heating in winter as fuel prices have risen by up to 500 percent. "In one area of Syria where Save the Children is responding, during the bitter winter, school benches were stolen for firewood; desperate, understandable measures to stay warm, but further erosion of children"s opportunities to learn and play."- Childhood Under Fire.
"For millions of Syrian children, the innocence of childhood has been replaced by the cruel realities of trying to survive this vicious war," said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. "Many are now living out in the open, struggling to find enough to eat, without the right medicine if they become sick or injured. As society has broken down, in the worst cases, hunger, homelessness and terror have replaced school for some of these young people. We cannot allow this to continue unchecked; the lives of too many children are at stake. "
The research by the Bahcesehir University also reveals the extent to which children have been affected by war, with nearly one third of children surveyed saying that they had been separated from members of their families due to the conflict. Three quarters of those surveyed had experienced the death of a close friend or family member. Many are showing signs of emotional difficulties as they struggle to come to terms with their experiences.
Save the Children, which is providing humanitarian relief in Syria and neighboring countries, is calling for all parties to the conflict to allow unfettered, safe access to populations in need and to ensure that everything is done to bring the fighting to an end.
It welcomes pledges to fund the $1.5 billion humanitarian appeal for Syria, and calls on governments to urgently deliver the money, which is designed to target aid both inside the stricken country and to refugees living on Syria"s borders.
To shine a light of solidarity for the children of Syria, Save the Children is planning a series of vigils in 21 countries around the world on Thursday, March 14th to mark two years of conflict in Syria. The real-life vigils will be complemented by a virtual vigil amplified by a "thunderclap" – a single, coordinated message that will synchronize social media with a united voice of support for the #SyriaCrisis. Virtual supporters can simply sign up to synchronize their own messages on Facebook and Twitter.
Save the Children is appealing for funds to help its response in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan where it is delivering food, warm clothes, blankets, providing education and helping children recover from their experiences.