Syria’s five-year long war has led to the creation of 2.4 million child refugees as an estimated 8.4 million children — more than 80 per cent of Syria’s child population — were affected by the conflict, U.N. children's agency Unicef said Monday. The conflict had also led to the recruitment of children as fighters, some as young as seven, Unicef noted.
“In Syria, violence has become commonplace, reaching homes, schools, hospitals, clinics, parks, playgrounds and places of worship,” said Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Nearly 7 million children live in poverty, making their childhood one of loss and deprivation.”
In a report titled “No Place for Children,” Unicef verified nearly 1,500 grave violations against children in 2015, with nearly 60 percent of the violations caused due to the use of explosive weapons in areas with civilian population.
More than one-third of these children were killed while in school or on their way to or from school, the agency noted.
"As the war continues, children are fighting an adult war, they are continuing to drop out of school, and many are forced into labor, while girls are marrying early,” Salama said, adding that a trend of particular concern is the recruitment of child soldiers.
While in the earlier years of the conflict, most of the children recruited by armed forces and groups were boys between 15 and 17 years old, since 2014, all parties involved in the conflict have recruited children at much younger ages. More than half of the Unicef-verified cases of children recruited in 2015 were under 15 years old, compared with less than 20 per cent in 2014, according to the report.
“Children report being actively encouraged to join the war by parties to the conflict offering gifts and 'salaries' of up to $400 a month,” the report said.
Unicef said 3.7 million children had been born since the conflict began, a third of all Syrian children.
Meanwhile, the violence continued in parts of Syria despite a fragile cessation of hostilities reached last month.