Syria

Syria: Prolonged, High-Intensity Conflict Has Devastating Impacts on Children, Critical to Prioritize Survivors’ Rights and Needs

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Millions of children in Syria remain trapped in a high-intensity protracted conflict and continue to endure a shocking level of violence, with little support available to survivors, highlights the third report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic.

The report covers a two-year period which witnessed the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of related restrictions as of March 2020, further exacerbating the vulnerabilities of children and impeding the work of humanitarian and child protection actors on the ground. The actual number of grave violations is therefore believed to be higher than the 4,724 verified in the report. A growing number of parties to conflict, at least 32, were found responsible for these violations.

“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. The consequences of such prolonged exposition to violence, to the violation and abuse of their most fundamental rights and to enormous stress, are dramatic. It is bound to affect generations to come. It is therefore of the utmost importance to prioritize the rights and needs of these boys and girls, including in the peace talks, to avoid a lost generation,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

The killing and maiming, and recruitment and use of children were the two most prevalent grave violations verified. More than 2,700 children were killed or maimed between July 2018 and June 2020, by airstrikes, explosive remnants of war and indiscriminate ground shelling of civilian-populated areas, while more than 1,400 children were recruited or used by at least 25 parties to conflict. Of particular concern is the emerging trend of transnational recruitment whereby children were recruited 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 attacks on schools and 135 attacks on medical facilities, including related protected persons, which severely impacted already fragile healthcare and education systems.

Children Deprived of Liberty

Children continued to be deprived of liberty for their alleged or actual association with parties to conflict, with 258 cases verified. The Special Representative reminds that children must be treated primarily as victims, detention be used only as a last resort and for the shortest period possible, and alternatives to detention must be sought in line with international standards for juvenile justice.

Furthermore, the humanitarian situation in al-Hol and al-Roj camps remained extremely concerning for the 65,400 persons held there, the vast majority being women and children. Some 11,000 foreign women and children, including at least 960 unaccompanied and separated children, are among those in these camps.

“Countries should facilitate and prioritize the repatriation of foreign children to their country of origin, in line with the best interests of the child. These boys and girls must be provided with assistance in reintegration, education, access to health and to livelihoods. They have lost a huge part of their childhood, and 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,” said Virginia Gamba.

Deliberate Targeting of Water Facilities

Syria continued to be a dangerous place for humanitarian actors and for the delivering of life-saving aid with 137 incidents of denial of humanitarian access verified. In an unprecedented trend for Syria, 46 attacks affecting 37 water facilities were verified in a period of 6 months in 2019, all but one in north-western Syria. These incidents affected access to clean water for over 700,000 people.

Access restrictions have posed considerable challenges for monitoring and verifying violations within Syria and the Special Representative commends the work of the child protection and humanitarian actors on the ground, who continue to operate under harsh circumstances in a high-risk environment.

Maintaining Engagement

The signature of a joint action plan to end and prevent child recruitment and use by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in June 2019 opened the space for a CAAC-focused dialogue to better protect children in north-eastern Syria. During that period, the UN also continued to engage with the Government of Syria to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child of March 2019, including those to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict. Furthermore, a dialogue was initiated with the UN with regard to the military use of schools; several schools previously used were vacated.

The Special Representative emphasized the importance of supporting children to address the long-term effects of the conflict on their physical and mental wellbeing. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s urgent call to all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law and call upon them, and those with influence on them, to immediately take all actions necessary to better protect children in Syria and ensure that it is a core part of the ongoing discussions and peace process.

Read the full report

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Grave violations in Syria between July 2018 and June 2020

4,724 grave violations against children

Killing and maiming: 2,717 children

Recruitment and use: 1,423 children, including 177 girls

Rape and other forms of sexual violence: 6 children, 5 girls and 1 boy; the violation remains vastly underreported

Abductions: 70 children

Attacks on schools and hospitals: 371 incidents; schools were frequently used for military purposes, with 67 incidents verified

Denial of humanitarian access: 137 incidents including 49 attacks on humanitarian facilities, personnel and transports and 46 attacks on water facilities

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For additional information, please contact:

Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

+1-646-537-5066 (mobile) / vinet@un.org

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