“I am most fearful of airstrikes. The airstrikes, when they come near our house I get very scared. I got scared. It was so noisy that I covered my ears when I was younger... I still do it now.”

–(Hamza, aged 10, Damascus, Syria)

 

For numerous children in Syria, strife, disorder and war is all that life has to offer so far. They have lost family and friends, suffered physical and mental abuse, and grown up in a country where the idea of fundamental rights holds no meaning.

The Syrian civil war owes its origins to a violent suppression of pro-democracy protests against the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. The demonstrators were dealt with brutally with massive arrests and repeated firing which took place in the province of Dara. This strengthened the resolve of the protestors and their calls echoed all around the country which was met with a higher force from the repressive regime. A few months later, the world witnessed a split between the global powers of the world into pro and anti-Assad blocs with Iran and Russia being supportive of the Syrian government, and the Arab League, European Union, and the United States adopting a critical approach.

An extensive use of force by the Syrian police and military against the citizens gave cause to rebel militias to organize and meet the government’s violence with violence. This conflict grew over time and tore the lives of many civilians including numerous children. The militant forces belonging both to the government and the rebels destroyed cities, their infrastructure and significant institutions. A 2012 report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by an independent international commission of inquiry on Syria highlighted the commission of war crimes, including but not limited to murder, torture and an extensive damage to property, by both the government and anti-government militias. The commission reported a grave violation of the rights of children including arbitrary arrests and detention whereby children were beaten, whipped, and burned. Additionally, the report brought to light the recruitment of several children under the age of 15 as fighters by anti-government forces. The government too was said to have used individuals under the age of 18 as human shields to further its agenda.

In 2016, the Syrian government with support from its Russian ally commenced a bombing campaign against the rebels that had taken control of the eastern part of the city of Aleppo. The bombings, in utter violation of international humanitarian law, were carried out indiscriminately targeting both the hostile rebels and the civilians including children. In the same year, air strikes targeted a school situated in a village of the province of Idlib in which several students and teachers were killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in 2018, reported the killings of over half a million people in the conflict out of which more than 55,000 were children. The death toll grew so much that international monitoring groups, in essence, quit counting.

Millions of Syrians and their families have been displaced since the commencement of the war. Many have fled the country and sought refuge in the neighbouring middle-eastern countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. These refugees, especially children, are at a continuous risk of abuse and exploitation. A report on the trafficking of persons published in 2018 by the Department of State of the United States of America suggested that practices such as forced child labour and sex trafficking are common in the refugee camps that have been set up to provide shelter to those fleeing the conflict in Syria. Further, transactional marriages are known to take place which in turn result in an increasing sexual exploitation of young girls.

The inability of the international community to come forth as one in the rescue of the children of Syria has left these delicate flowers scarred and traumatised. The events of the war and those that have followed it are likely to haunt their young minds in the years to come. It is high time that we uphold the universal principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and rid these children of the adverse psychological and social impact that years of war has had on them. We must offer them a chance to grow and prosper; a chance to walk the alleyway without fear of being struck.

For a generation that will one day be tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding their homeland, the comity of nations must come together to deliver on its promise of offering a peaceful settlement which would put an end to the eight year long Syrian conflict.

The 10-year old Hamza, while pleading the international community, sings the song,

“Oh world,

My land is burnt, my land is stolen freedom,

Give us peace, and give us childhood.”