A Glimmer of hope for the children of Syria

Statement by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
New York – A fifth dreadful year of conflict is ending for the children of Syria.
Another year spent worrying about their safety, or fleeing unbearable violence. Another year during which boys and girls have looked up with anguish to see if a bomb was about to fall from the sky, or if they would be able to hide from the next attack in their neighborhood. Again in the past year, hundreds of children have died and many more were injured.

ISIL continued its massive recruitment and use of children, and forced them to commit gruesome acts of violence, including using boys as executioners. Other armed groups also continued to recruit and use children, in some cases targeting them at a younger age. The recruitment and use of children robs them of their rights, and also puts them at greater risk: in the past year, there has been an increase of verified cases of children killed and maimed following their association with armed groups.

Access to education and health, two key rights, was further disrupted. According to the Ministry of Education, over 6,500 schools have been destroyed, damaged, used as shelters or are otherwise inaccessible in the country since the beginning of the conflict. Attacks on medical facilities have also been on the rise, with clinics and hospitals sometimes targeted to prevent people – including children- injured in the conflict to receive treatment.

We cannot forget the images of malnourished children in Madaya and other communities. Access to besieged communities is slowly increasing but it is beyond unacceptable that thousands of children are still denied humanitarian assistance at their greatest hour of need.

Five years after the beginning of this brutal conflict, too many boys and girls have been victims of, or witnessed unspeakable violence. At this point, it would be very difficult to find a single child in Syria that has not felt the impact of war in one way or another. The consequences will be felt for years to come.

The children of Syria cannot face this violence for another year. But finally, there seems to be a glimmer of hope.

As the UN Special Envoy for Syria described it on Monday, the peace talks in Geneva are taking place “at a time of fragile cessation of hostilities”.

It is my hope that the political talks will finally bring the peace the children of Syria so desperately need. The time has come to allow them to reclaim their childhood and to build a future filled with hope in a peaceful country. For this to happen, we need to ensure their specific needs are not forgotten.