The lingering humanitarian crisis in Syria has prompted millions of children to become breadwinners for their families, and without significant support, humanitarian organizations fear the number of children out of school and forced to work instead will continue to rise.
A report by Save the Children and Unicef found that within Syria, about three quarters of all children have taken jobs to support their families; in Jordan, one of the five neighboring countries hosting some four million refugees who have fled Syria, about half of all refugee children are in the labor market.
“As families become increasingly desperate, children are working primarily for their survival. Whether in Syria or neighboring countries, they are becoming main economic players,” Dr. Roger Hearn, regional director for Save the Children in the Middle East and Eurasia, said in a statement.
The report found that many child workers find themselves in vulnerable work conditions, working long hours for little pay in hazardous environments. Three quarters of children surveyed in the Za’atari refugee camp, a camp of more than 80,000 Syrians in Jordan, reported experiencing health problems.
“Carrying heavy loads, being exposed to pesticides and toxic chemicals, and working long hours – these are just some of the hazards working children face every day around the region,” Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
“Most vulnerable” are those children involved in the conflict, sexual exploitation and other illicit activities.
Before the country spiraled into its bloody civil war three years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country with a 90 percent literacy rate. The report found that more than half the country is now unemployed, and 64.7 percent of the country is estimated to be living in extreme poverty.
Schools within Syria and in neighboring countries are often poorly staffed, overcrowded and poorly funded.
In 2013, the No Lost Generation initiative launched with the support of U.N. partners and nongovernmental organizations in hopes of reversing the negative effects the war in Syria has had on the country’s youth.
"One day, when the crisis ends and these children grow up, they will be the ones to rebuild Syria," their website reads. "The world cannot afford to lose this generation."