Beirut, 18 July 2013 – The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, has concluded a visit to Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. The regional visit gave the Special Representative the opportunity to see, first-hand, the impact of the Syrian conflict on children living in Syria and in the region.
“Everyone I spoke with, both inside and outside Syria, has shared personal stories about the impact of the conflict on children and their families. I have met with parents whose children died in bombings, children who have seen their brothers and sisters killed in front of them and children who are recovering from wounds so severe that I wondered how they could have survived,” said Leila Zerrougui.
Ms. Zerrougui met with Government officials and had contacts with members of opposition groups. She urged all parties to take urgent measures to protect children and civilians.
“All parties must stop the shelling and use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as terror attacks,” said the Special Representative.
A Growing Humanitarian Crisis
Inside Syria, 6.8 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children. Access to affected populations remains difficult or impossible.
In Rif Damascus, the Special Representative met children and women who have been displaced, several times over several months, and whose survival depends on the humanitarian assistance they receive.
“Safe and impartial delivery of humanitarian assistance – that is so critically needed – must be guaranteed by all parties. Civilians must not be taken hostage by belligerents,” stated the Special Representative.
Every day children and their families continue to flee Syria. In many cases, they have been on the run inside their country for months and sometimes years before deciding to seek refuge in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere. They left because of the violence, but also because access to food, clean water and other basic necessities had become a daily struggle. They live – sometimes in dire conditions – in refugee camps or in host communities. About half of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees are children.
The Special Representative met with Government officials, aid workers and victims in Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. She recognized the tremendous efforts of host countries to assist those seeking refuge on their territories. The influx of refugees is creating intense social, economic and political pressure, putting the stability of the region at risk.
The United Nations system has mobilized huge support from donors but the needs continue to outpace available resources. The Special Representative is calling on the international community to continue to help the children of Syria and their families.
Children must be protected from recruitment
The Government of Syria recently adopted a law forbidding the recruitment and use of children under 18. Ms. Zerrougui encouraged authorities to enforce the law in a fair and equitable way to protect children.
The Special Representative continues to receive information that some armed opposition groups are using children as combatants and in auxiliary roles, despite assurances from some local commanders that they would not accept under-age fighters.
“I met teenagers who had joined armed opposition groups and others who wanted to return to the battleground,” said the Special Representative. “Everything must be done to prevent them from compromising their future by taking up arms. Those in command recruiting and using children on the battlefield will be held accountable.”
Arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of children
Children continue to be detained by Syrian authorities on security charges, or suspicion that they or their families are sympathizing with the opposition. Similarly, opposition groups are also detaining children.
“I have received reports that in detention, children are mistreated and tortured, or detained in degrading conditions. Families are without news of their relatives”, said Ms Zerrougui. “I have reminded authorities to immediately bring all children detained before a judge to assess the lawfulness of their detention, or release them, separate them from adults and treat them, under all circumstances, with dignity.”
A generation of Syrians denied education
Schools in Syria are under attack. They have been bombed, used as military barracks, prisons or simply closed because of the insecurity. Thousands of children, inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, have been out of school for months, or even years. Considerable efforts have been deployed by Governments, the United Nations and NGOs to help children go back to school, but more needs to be done.
“Education is one of the most effective ways to build an inclusive and open society,” Ms. Zerrougui repeated to Governments and partners during her mission. “We cannot allow the next generation of Syrians to be illiterate.”
Holding Belligerents Accountable
The Special Representative reports to the Security Council about six grave violations committed against children in situation of armed conflict: killing or maiming, recruitment and use, abduction, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access.
Scores of grave violations are committed on a daily basis against children in Syria. As a result, Government forces, associated militias as well as opposition groups are on the list of shame of the Secretary-General.
“Finding out what is really happening and telling the world how children are affected by the conflict in Syria is the first step towards accountability and ending impunity,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
She added that without a political solution, children will continue to suffer the dire consequences of this conflict.