Childhood Under Siege: Living and Dying in Besieged Areas of Syria

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250,000 Children Living in Terror in Syria’s Besieged Areas

Save the Children Reports Findings from Focus Groups with Families Living Under Siege

Media Contact Negin Janati 203.212.0044 (M)

Fairfield, Conn. (March 8, 2015) — A new report from Save the Children reveals in shocking detail the horror of family life in cities and towns under siege in Syria. The report estimates that more than 250,000 children have been in constant fear for their lives for many months in Syria's besieged areas. Parents testify to not only dealing with the psychological impact on children terrified of explosions, but the dire consequences of being deprived of food, basic medicine and clean water.

Recent moves to increase aid to besieged areas are welcome, but deliveries have been found to be ad-hoc, piecemeal and often stripped of vital supplies including medical equipment.

More than 125 mothers, fathers and children living under siege were interviewed in 22 focus groups for the report, "Childhood Under Siege", which is released today ahead of the five year mark of the war in Syria. In every group interviewed, children said they live in constant fear of attack and parents said their children's behavior had changed – becoming more withdrawn, aggressive or depressed.

Their testimony painted a shocking picture of daily life in Syria's besieged towns. Health staff reported operating by candlelight, running out of medicine, and sick babies dying at checkpoints because of delays in reaching medical care. Children are being forced to eat boiled leaves and animal feed for their one daily meal and teachers say they are setting up schools in basements to protect students from bombs. Residents described how snipers try to shoot at anyone who leaves, trapping the population in an open-air prison.

"Fear has taken control. Children now wait for their turn to be killed. Even adults live only to wait for their turn to die," said Rihab*, a mother in Eastern Ghouta.

Over the last six months attacks appear to be getting worse. New information suggests that barrel bombs are dropped on besieged areas more than any other part of Syria and that this trend increased significantly in the second half of 2015. Attacks include the shelling of a playground in Al Wa'er in September where dozens of children were playing and airstrikes which killed at least 29 children in Eastern Ghouta in two weeks in December alone.

Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children U.S. said: "Children are dying from lack of food and medicine in parts of Syria just a few kilometres from warehouses that are piled high with aid supplies. They are paying the price for the world's inaction.

"Families interviewed for this report spoke of sick babies dying at checkpoints, vets treating humans and children forced to eat animal feed as they cower in basements from airstrikes. Enough is enough. After nearly five years of conflict in Syria, it's time to end the sieges."

Hassan*, a father from Deir Ezzor, said: "When the shelling was happening my children were terrified… I saw four children that were hit by the bombs. It was so tragic, I couldn't even watch what was happening. Some children lost their limbs."

The focus groups, which were conducted this year in eight besieged areas, found widespread and deadly deprivation of food, clean water, medicine and healthcare:

  • In all but one of the adult focus groups (16 out of 17) people reported that children in their community had died from lack of medicine or access to healthcare.

  • In every group respondents said they had to cut the number of meals they eat per day by at least half.

  • In four groups, people said children there had died from malnutrition and hunger-related causes.

Despite the UN Security Council passing six resolutions since 2014 calling for unobstructed humanitarian access in Syria – one every four months – the number of people living under siege has more than doubled in the last year. The recent efforts to deliver aid into some of the hardest-hit areas are welcome, but they have delivered only a tiny fraction of what is needed. Some vital medicines, fuel and high nutrition food are being removed from convoys, and people are still not allowed to leave for medical treatment. Until full access is granted, life-saving supplies will not reach everyone who desperately needs them.

The primary responsibility for the suffering of Syria's children lies with the parties to the conflict – Save the Children calls on them to end the sieges and immediately allow unfettered and permanent access for humanitarian aid to all areas, and to end attacks on schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure.

There is also much more the international community should be doing to save the lives of Syria's besieged children. They must hold all parties to the conflict accountable, to ensure full and unobstructed access to areas currently under siege. We also ask world leaders to decouple humanitarian relief from peace talks and stop using aid as a bargaining chip for political negotiations.

*Names have been changed for protection