Syria’s war affects generation of children
By Bassem Mroue, AP, Mar 13, 2013
BEIRUT (AP)—Mohammed works at a Beirut supermarket where he waits on customers and carries their groceries home for a small tip that the 14-year-old saves to send later to his family in a village in northeastern Syria.
He is among hundreds of thousands of Syrian children who have dropped out of school and fled two years of conflict that have claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people.
He is also one of countless young Syrians now frequently seen wandering the streets of Beirut, pumping gas at stations and sometimes begging for money.
Aid groups warn that some 2 million children in Syria are facing, among other things, malnutrition, disease, early marriage and severe trauma as a result of the civil war.
To mark the second anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, the Britain-based charity Save the Children released a report Wednesday entitled “Childhood Under Fire.” It says the conflict has left many children traumatized, unable to go to school and struggling to find enough to eat.
"I have to say I have been shocked and horrified by the stories that I’ve heard from the children here in Lebanon who fled from Syria," Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, told The Associated Press at the group’s offices in Beirut.
"You never want to hear a child talk about watching their friend killed or their father tortured in front of them or their brother shot through the leg," added Forsyth, who spent several days in Lebanon last week meeting children among the estimated 320,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to the neighboring country.
Syria’s children will need decades to heal from the trauma, he warned.
Similarly, a report issued by UNICEF Tuesday said unrelenting violence, massive population displacement, and damage to infrastructure and essential services caused by the Syrian conflict risk leaving an entire generation of children scarred for life.
"As millions of children inside Syria and across the region witness their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict, the risk of them becoming a lost generation grows every day," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
Save the Children, which provides humanitarian relief in Syria and neighboring countries, called on all groups taking part in the conflict to allow unfettered, safe access to populations in need and to “ensure that everything is done to bring fighting to an end.”
In the report, it said that young boys are being used by armed groups as porters and human shields at the front lines. It added that some girls are being married off early to protect them from a widely perceived threat of sexual violence. Both sides of the conflict in Syria have accused each other of using children to protect themselves.
The report says that combined with the breakdown of society in parts of the country, and more than 3 million people internally displaced, the conflict has led to “the collapse of childhood for millions of youngsters.”
The number of U.N.-registered refugees topped 1 million—half of them children—earlier this month.
Mohammed, the Beirut supermarket employee, stopped going to school after it closed because of the fighting. As the eldest of three siblings, he was sent by his family to Beirut to stay with his maternal uncle, hoping he could find work to help sustain the family.
"I make about 15,000 pounds ($10) a day," said the portly boy from the northeastern village of Shadadeh in Hassakeh province, which witnessed heavy clashes last month forcing thousands of its residents to flee.
"If I don’t send money to my family, they won’t be able to buy anything," he said. Mohammed gave only his first name, fearing for his security.
Forsyth said even though children are by nature resilient, the trauma they have been through will have a long-term impact on their lives.
"For millions of Syrian children, the innocence of childhood has been replaced by the cruel realities of trying to survive this vicious war."