Syria children: the scarred victims of seven years of war

The conflict killed 910 children in 2017, the highest number recorded since the war began.
Sunday 18/03/2018
A Syrian girl who was injured during the violence in her country four years ago stands in front of her room in a hospital in Amman. 				                         (Reuters)
Looking ahead. A Syrian girl who was injured during the violence in her country four years ago stands in a hospital in Amman. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - The melancholic sounds from Bassem Mokdad’s violin could reflect the sadness and suffering that Syrian children and adolescents like him are enduring seven years into the conflict wreaking havoc in their country.

The 17-year-old refugee in Lebanon found solace playing the violin after a shell hit his home in Daraa in southern Syria four years ago, killing his friend and leaving Mokdad paralysed from the waist down.

The Syrian conflict, which entered its eighth year on March 15, has had a brutal and unprecedented effect on children amid the indifference and detachment of the various warring parties and international players, the United Nations said.

“We call for that senseless war in Syria to stop for the sake of children,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, pleaded. “None of the parties have ever respected the simplest sacred principles of protection of children that are universally embraced. Today, more than ever before, the children of Syria need us.”

“Children have lost limbs and are paralysed for life. That sad reality continues still every single day with 3.3 million children inside Syria being exposed on a daily basis to unexploded ordnance and ammunition left around schools and playgrounds,” Cappelaere said at a conference in Beirut.

The conflict killed 910 children in 2017, the highest number recorded since the war began and 50% more than in 2016. In the first two months of 2018, more than 1,000 children were killed or injured and 40% of those killed by landmines are children, the United Nations said.

“Of Syria’s estimated 10 million children, 8.6 million are in dire need of assistance, up from about half a million after the first year of the war. Nearly 6 million children are displaced or living as refugees, and about 2.5 million are out of school,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Early marriage, child recruitment and child labour are on the rise. In 2017, three times more children were recruited into the fighting than in 2015 and one-in-four recruited children is under the age of 15. Of the estimated 419,000 people living under siege, 200,000 are children, the United Nations said.

“The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has tracked the war since it began, has documented as many as 19,800 children killed since the conflict began in March 2011. A study published in the Lancet (medical journal) in January shows that children are increasingly bearing the brunt of the fighting, making up 23% of the civilian casualties in 2016, compared to 8.9% in 2011. The Lancet study reported at least 13,800 children have been killed from 2011 through 2016,” the AP reported.

Lack of access to proper medical and psychological care has prolonged or worsened injuries and disabilities among children.

Dr Ghassan Abu Sitti, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, stressed the importance of treating disabilities quickly to increase chances of recovery.

“The growing child gives you a smaller window to treat. Once a child passes the age of childhood, reducing the disability becomes much more difficult,” said Abu Sitti, who operates under a UN-funded programme for reconstructive surgery for children from the region suffering from war-related injuries and for Syrian refugee children with congenital deformation.

The programme, which started four years ago, treats 200 war-related injuries and 150 cases of congenital deformation per year. The bulk of the injuries took place in Syria with a few in Iraq.

Cappelaere called on fighting groups in Syria and the countries that have an influence on them “to stop the brutal and grave violations of children’s rights” and ensure that children get “unconditional access to basic services,” including medical care and education.

He stressed, however, that, despite injuries and displacement, “the ambition of the children knows no boundaries.”

“When I speak to the… boys and girls and hear their dreams and aspirations and what they want to become in life and when I hear their resilience and their determination to fight for a better, brighter future I do very much believe that Syria has a future ahead,” Cappelaere said.

Mokdad, who is wheelchair-bound, said he decided to embrace the future and find a goal after overcoming acute depression following his injury.

“First, I did not want to see people or talk to anybody, I kind of isolated myself because people saw only my wheelchair and never me. Today, I have a goal and I am going to pursue it. If I can’t make a musical career, I will try photography,” Mokdad said.

UNICEF said it needed $1.3 billion in 2018 to support children affected by the war in Syria and neighbouring countries.