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Syrian refugees © Jcarillet

The Lost Generation of Syrian Children

Syria’s children will be a lost generation suffering not only from a life of violence and war, but a life of bleak opportunities.

As the Syrian War marks its sixth year, the humanitarian crisis has become worse than ever. Those paying the highest price of the conflict are children. With no place to go, it is estimated that at least 3.7 million children are displaced—that is 1 in all 3 Syrian children—according to UNICEF.

While it is easy to count the number of refugees, it is impossible to put a number on the cost of war that Syrian children are paying the ultimate price for. Surely, the loss of future growth, development and opportunities puts a terrible price on Syria’s next generation.

Continuous violence, displacement, lack of health care, school disruption, losing family members, and physical and psychological trauma are among the most common ailments children face. These children not only lose their childhood, but they are also robbed of a future.

Children are directly impacted by the war. According to UNICEF, boys as young as 7 years old are recruited by armed forces to fight on the front lines, often without parental consent. They receive military training, carry and maintain weapons, and are forced into combat—sometimes losing their limbs, sanity and even their lives on the battlefield.

Girls are also not immune to the effects of war. Since about 7 million Syrian children live in poverty, girls are often forced to marry young or are sent to work in unfavorable conditions, sometimes being exposed to sexual violence.

To protect their children, families send them away in search of a better life. As a result, more than 15,000 unaccompanied and separated children have crossed Syria’s border, according to UNICEF. Traveling alone, they are deprived of nutrition and basic health care, and often experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children suffering from PTSD often have severe depression, sleep deprivation and feelings of isolation and loneliness. Without proper support and medication, these children usually exhibit anti-social behavior and aggressiveness, which could have a lasting impact on their learning and integration into society.

Children who were born in the last six years know nothing but the devastating effects of war. Older children, however, remember a better life. Before the war, there was nearly 100% primary school enrollment and 72% secondary school enrollment, but times have changed. In 2016, UNICEF reported that 2.1 million children in Syria and 700,000 Syrian refugee children did not have access to education. While some schools remain open, many fear for their lives going to school.

donate to nonprofit media organizationsEducation plays a key role in securing a brighter future for Syrian refugee children. It protects them from being exploited by child labor, early marriage and recruited by armed groups.

Save the Children, an international nongovernmental organization that promotes children’s rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries, estimates that the cost of Syria’s future gross domestic product (GDP) if 2.8 million children never go back to school would be 5.4%, or $2.18 billion, annually.

If the conflict continues, Syria’s children will be a lost generation suffering not only from a life of violence and war, but a life of bleak opportunities. These children deserve to live a life of dignity and opportunity.

Let’s act now before it’s too late.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Jcarillet