Children walk hand in hand in Syria

© SARC – Homs

Children repeatedly bear the brunt of war. According to the UN, 6.8 million people in Syria require urgent humanitarian assistance and half of them are children.

Globally, children in conflict are often forced to take part in horrifying acts of violence and witness attacks on their villages and loved ones. 

“It is our responsibility to act now and stop violations against children,” said Leila Zerrougui, UN under-secretary general and special representative on children and armed conflict, told the British Red Cross on a recent visit. 

The UN uses a name and shame list to publicly announce the names of any government or opposition forces that commit violations against children. Leila added: “This is a strong message from the international community that this will not be condoned.” 

Red Cross support for children 

Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are active in 38 countries affected by situations of violence. 

Jane Backhurst, senior humanitarian policy advisor, said: “We are known for our neutrality and independence, which gives us increased reach and influence. As a Movement, we can advocate for children to be better protected, especially through promoting humanitarian access.” 

In countries recovering from civil wars, the Red Cross helps children who were recruited by armed groups during the conflict to reintegrate into their communities. Counselling, education and vocational training are helping children in Sierra Leone and Liberia to build a future. 

Syria’s children 

Experience of conflict can have damaging consequences for children, including psychological problems, separation from family members, and no access to schooling. They are stripped of their childhood and less able to build a secure future for themselves. 

The current situation in Syria is a stark reminder of the need to protect children. A recent UN report revealed that one in five schools within Syria have been destroyed, damaged or taken over for shelter by people who had fled their homes. Leila is adamant that the international community must protect them from becoming a lost generation. 

She said: “Not only do we need to protect children during conflict but we must look after them in the long term too. Otherwise we risk losing a whole generation who will not be able to rebuild their communities or prevent future conflicts from re-occurring.”

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