Vulnerable Syria: beyond the politics of war, children are the no.1 casualties


Since the conflict in Syria began more than 1.6 million people have fled the country, over half of those being children. Sometimes it is all too easy to lose sight of how conflict affects the children of a nation. On July the 12th it was Malala day. A day dedicated to a courageous young lady fighting for the rights of girls, to be educated without fear.

It is on this note that the effect on children of the violence in Syria is most poignant. Save the Children have shown Syria to be the worst in the world for attacks affecting education. With more than a fifth of the countries schools being destroyed or rendered unusable, they report that the education of 2.5 million young people is being jeopardised.

With deaths estimated as over 5000 a month in Syria, it is proving to be, by far, the bloodiest uprising of the so called Arab Spring. At the height of the conflict in Iraq in 2006, the death toll only twice went over 3000. According to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 80% of those killed were men. But it also documented the deaths of 1,500 children under the age of ten. Save the Children say the figure is likely to be higher still, as deaths go unreported.

Navi Pillay, the UN head of Human Rights says there were, “cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred.” A separate UN report described the number of deaths among children in Syria as “unbearable”, with Leila Zerrougui (UN Special Representative and presenter of the findings) adding that the children in Syria are suffering, “maybe the heaviest toll”, of anywhere in the world. War Child an organisation that works with children in conflict situations says that the children in Syria are bearing witness to the violence and trauma of war yet are further more without access to the adequate means of support.

To arm or not to arm is the burning question of choice. But let us consider, irrespective of the direction from whence the arms arrive – who wins this war of unprecedented child casualties? Who bears the responsibility for the shattered lives when it’s all over? Reports suggest that both government troops and rebel forces have used children in the conflict. It accused government forces of torturing children suspected of having links to rebel groups. Whilst the Free Syrian Army who openly call for more arms aid, to ‘tip the balance’, also stand accused of using children, both in combat and supporting roles.

Recent news has called what is happening in Syria, “a civil war within a civil war”, when it came to light that a senior commander of the Free Syrian Army had been executed by extremist jihadis. The OHCHR are calling for ceasefire “before tens of thousands more people, are killed or injured.” People can be forgiven for thinking that in arming the rebels the field is being levelled in anyway. Paulo Pinheiro said, “States who provide arms have a responsibility in terms of the eventual use of these arms to commit gross human rights violations, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.” In simple terms, the US sends to the rebels, the Russians send to Assad, and so on and so forth, with no one accepting the final responsibility of these actions. What is needed more than anything is a ceasefire, a real humanitarian operation that can decisively end the bloodbath that is Syria.

Navi Pillay says that,” States with influence could, if they act collectively, do a lot more to bring the conflict to a swift end, thereby saving countless more lives.” Let’s hope and urge this in any way we can. In doing so, we give a voice to the voiceless – the civilians, and especially the children that are bearing the brunt of the violence in Syria.


Elizabeth Cartwright