The world has devoted a great deal of diplomatic energy to securing Syria’s chemical weapons. It has yet to do the same for securing Syria’s children.
Refugees fleeing the conflict, most to Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors Jordan and Lebanon, top a whopping 2 million. Some U.N. officials expect that number to climb as high as 4 million in 2014.
More than 1.1 million of these refugees are younger than 18. Indeed, Syria’s youngest citizens are paying dearly for a war they did not create, one that is laying waste to their present and their future.
Three out of four Syrian children “have lost a close friend or family member in their country’s ongoing conflict” and “many have witnessed violence,” notes the International Rescue Committee. Charities such as IRC and Mercy Corps working with Syria’s children tell of young people isolated, lonely and struggling with the impossible task of coming to terms with all that they have seen and lost.
“If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in November when releasing a report on the grim future facing Syria’s children.
“A grave consequence of the conflict is that a generation is growing up without a formal education,” the report said. “More than half of all school-aged Syrian children in Jordan and Lebanon are not in school. In Lebanon, it is estimated that some 200,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children could remain out of school at the end of the year.” They join 25 million kids of primary-school-age around the world out of school because of war.
Low educational attainment is among the strongest predictors of violence. Anyone hoping for a safer, more secure world had better start with educating children.
And yet until now, the international community’s reaction to the escalating death count and the rising number of hungry, homeless and displaced children has fallen somewhere between a shrug and a sigh.
This leaves children to pay the price. And so will the rest of us, eventually, if nothing is done to help a lost generation find a way to a more secure future.