In the third year of fighting that has claimed close to 100,000 lives, the children of Syria are suffering unspeakable horrors and growing up illiterate and angry.
That was the warning delivered Thursday by the United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict. Leila Zerrougui, in Beirut after a three-day visit to Syria’s grim refugee camps and shattered communities, told U.N. colleagues and journalists that the normal pursuits of childhood – school, play and family life – have become casualties of the fighting between rebels and the forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Once the war is over, Zerrougui forecast, the world will be confronted with “a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate.”
It was a warning fearfully telegraphed by U.N. relief workers about Bosnia’s children 20 years ago, a tragically accurate prediction of long-term consequences still visible in the divided political, ethnic and business leaderships in the Balkan country today.
Zerrougui laid out the plight of Syria’s children in chilling statistics:
-- 7,132 children younger than 15 have been killed since fighting began in March 2011, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, an activist group that tracks war dead.
-- 2.5 million children are among the 5 million Syrians forced to flee their homes by the fighting.
-- Half of the displaced children don’t attend school at all.
-- 70% of those living near functioning schools have had to drop out to work or scavenge for food.
-- Artillery bombardment has destroyed thousands of schools and most of those still standing have been tranformed into shelters for the displaced.
-- 2 million children face malnutrition, disease, severe trauma and other physical or mental injuries.
-- Untold numbers, though probably in the thousands, have been recruited into the fighting.
The scope of the conflict and its effects on children have been intensifying, the U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, told the Security Council on Tuesday.
And the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, on Thursday urged European Union nations, which have taken in about 40,000 Syrians, to show more generosity and compassion for those forced to flee “unspeakable human rights violations and persecution in their home country.”