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2016 was the worst year yet for Syrian children

Last updated on: March 15, 2017 09:16 IST

A new Unicef report reveals that more than 650 children died as military conflicts and political games in the embattled country waged on for the sixth year.

“I wanted to become a doctor but perhaps I won’t become anything because our school was attacked, we used to play a lot in the schoolyard but now I’m afraid of coming here. My dad might take us to another school in another village.”
-- Ahmad, 6-year-old

IMAGE: The year 2016 saw a 20 per cent rise since last year in the number of children that this Syrian conflict has claimed ever since it began six years ago. 
Coping mechanisms are eroding fast and families are taking extreme measures just to be able to survive. 
Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

A record number of Syrian children died or were forced to fight in their country’s ongoing civil war last year, as thousands continue to live under siege cut off from aid, a new United Nations report says.

At least 652 children died in the last 12 months, a 20 per cent increase on 2015, the organisation said in a damning new report published Monday.

The report includes only verified figures, meaning the death toll could be much higher, the report said.

IMAGE: After six years of crisis in Syria, the health sector is facing critical challenges hitting civilians the hardest.

According to the report, in 2016, over 338 hospitals and medical personnel were attacked.

These attacks have put children at even higher risk of contracting diseases as they miss out on something as basic as immunisations.

Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

The report also spoke of how children were being used in the fight. More than 850 children were recruited to fight last year, compared with 362 verified cases in 2015. And they’re often on the front lines, “increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards,” the report said.

Children recruited and used during the conflict
Children died during the conflict
Children maimed during the conflict

The country’s dire situation is “pushing people to the brink, some seeing death as the only way out,” said Mirna Yacoub, a former UNICEF deputy representative in Syria. Taking their own lives is “an escape from their daily horror. Coping mechanisms are dwindling.”

IMAGE: The report also revealed that a shocking 1 in 4 children in Syria are stunted in growth owing to the lack of food in the war-torn country. 
Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

The situation for those not caught up in the front lines is still dire: in Syria at least 1.7 million children are out of school, where one in three schools are unusable. There are at least 2.3 million refugee Syrian children elsewhere in the Middle East, with around two thirds of that number forced to work at least part time to support their families. 

Last week, Save the Children warned millions of Syrian children could be living in a state of “toxic stress”, which the charity feared may become irreversible without immediate help.

IMAGE: The war in Syria has left the country in tatters. 
A whopping eighty-five per cent of Syrians live below the poverty line.
Owing to this pathetic statistic, in 75 per cent of the homes, children are now engaged in labour, denying them the right to education and just to be children. 
Photograph: Bassam Diab/UNHCR/Reuters 

It also found two-thirds of children had either lost a loved one, had their house bombed or shelled, or been injured as a result of the war.

The bloody civil war, which just shy of its sixth birthday shows no signs of slowing down, has killed more than 400,000 people and driven half of Syria’s population from their homes.

All diplomatic efforts to bring lasting peace to the crisis have failed.

IMAGE: "Children and families in Aleppo are facing a catastrophic situation. Water cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases," said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria. 
Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters