After eight years of destructive conflict, more than a third of Syrian children ‘always or frequently’ feel unsafe, as well as distressed and alone, according to a survey carried out for a new Save the Children report, “A Better Tomorrow: Syria’s Children Have Their Say”.
Ahead of the major international Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region in Syria in Brussels this week, questionnaires and focus group discussions were carried out with children in four governorates in Syria that have been devastated by war.
Half of those surveyed identify violence, family separation, the destruction of homes and vital infrastructure and lack of access to basic services like education and healthcare as “very serious” challenges facing them and their communities Despite this, the majority of children surveyed are hopeful about the future and their role in creating a better Syria, providing there is peace and stability. Since the start of Syria’s brutal conflict eight years ago, some 4 million children have been born and most know nothing but war. This survey only provides a snapshot of children’s experiences and further consultations should now happen to fully understand the recovery needs of all children and their communities.
As the conflict enters its 9th year on March 15th, more than half of Syrian children are in need of humanitarian assistance and a third are out of school. Many live in areas where basic services are almost non-existent and the infrastructure they rely on has been decimated, and at least 2.5 million children are internally displaced.
In surveys conducted with more than 365 children in Idlib, Aleppo, al-Raqqa and al-Hassakeh governorates, they told us:
Violence and insecurity, substandard housing and the lack of basic services are the major challenges facing their community;
Being separated from family/family breakdown is a major concern. Following the massive internal displacement crisis within Syria, the overwhelming majority (98%) said being with their family was very important for their happiness;
Restoring schools and access to education is essential to Syria’s future. With a third of Syria’s children out of school, the children surveyed repeatedly expressed their fears of being uneducated;
The majority of children surveyed feel optimistic about the future and their role in helping to build a better Syria – but their key demand to both their leaders and the international community is to protect children and end the conflict.
13-year-old Lina*, who fled the siege in Eastern Ghouta and now lives in Idlib, said: “The war has taken everything from children and left us with nothing: no education, no future. My parents were killed four years ago when a shell landed on our house. After I lost them, I hoped that I would follow them but god had other plans.
I want the war to end so we can return home and rebuild our country. As for me, I don’t want anything in the world except for an education. I hope that the world can see us and help us.”
14-year-old Sara* was injured during an airstrike which destroyed her home in Deir Ezzor, and now lives in a displacement camp in Syria where she completed the survey. She said:
“Before the war my life was very beautiful and I was happy with my family. I am not so happy anymore. My life and the war are one now. Whenever I hear a plane in the sky I still get so scared. I think it’s important to ask children about our lives. It’s hard to imagine the future of my country when we don’t even have a home, but I’m still optimistic. I would tell the world’s children not to go too far from your families and don’t play with anything dangerous.”
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chief Executive of Save the Children International, said: “Many children in Syria have grown up knowing nothing but war, seeing and experiencing things that no child ever should. The Syrian children we spoke to feel unsafe and alone after being separated from their family.
Those who have committed grave violations against Syria’s children during the brutal war must be held to account by the international community.
As leaders meet in Brussels this week, we are calling on them to listen to the children of Syria. Despite all they’ve been though in eight years of war, Syrian children remain optimistic and are determined that they will create a better future. They demand peace, stability and an education – and it’s up to the international community meeting to help deliver it.”
Save the Children is calling on delegates to the Brussels III donor conference to publicly commit to supporting child-focused early recovery in Syria and provide targeted and sustained funding for key sectors to support this. Parties to the conflict and the international community must also take concrete steps to create the conditions for peace and protect children, while ensuring equitable access to basic and life-saving services.