Published On: Wed, Mar 12th, 2014

Syria is one of the most dangerous places to be a kid: UNICEF

Syria is one of the most dangerous places to be a kid: UNICEF

Safa, 6, is from Aleppo, Syria. When her home was destroyed, she and her family moved to rural Damascus. But they met a similar fate again. When the farmhouse where the two adults and six children were staying was attacked, they literally ran for their lives.

“I remember my youngest daughter’s face was covered in blood and after running I realized I couldn’t find Safa,” says her mom Fatima to Melanie Sharpe in a UNICEF blog. A neighbour found Safa bleeding in a burned-down tree and took her to a hospital. Safa lost her leg in the attack, but would live.

“I’m not with any side, what’s the fault of our daughters?” asks Safa’s father Ahmed. “They’re not guilty. Why would this happen?”

Safa and her family were able to get out of Syria and make it to the Za’atari refugee camp.

Photos: Safa in school, learning to work and working with Sharpe    

“This is a young girl whose life will never be the same,” says Sharpe to Kevin Newman Live. Sharpe is an emergency communications specialist with UNICEF, who just returned from spending seven months in the region. Most of that time was spent at the Za’atari refugee camp just across the border in Jordan. Za’atari is reportedly the second-largest refugee camp in the world and is home to about 150,000 people.

Sharpe says most of the children up until three years ago were living normal lives that were similar to the way many of us grew up in homes and going to school. Now many of them are living in tents. Safa is just one of 5.5 million.

The numbers are nearly impossible to fathom. That’s more than 5.5 million children that have been affected by the three-year war still going on in Syria. That number has doubled in the past year. More than 10,000 have died, 38,000 children have been born as refugees, 8,000 children have arrived at Syria’s borders without parents, one in 10 refugee children is working, 1.2 million children have fled the country and more than six million children have been displaced within Syria meaning more than a third of Syrian children are no longer living in their own homes or communities.

“Each of these numbers is actually a child,” says Sharpe.

This is all according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report published today. It calls Syria one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a kid.

“I was at the reception centre when a family arrived with five kids. The mother said they hadn’t slept in four days and hadn’t eaten in three,” says Sharpe.

“For Syria’s children, the past three years have been the longest of their lives. Must they endure another year of suffering?” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a statement.

Sharpe says many people who finally make it to the camp are telling her that they are no longer fearing for their lives. Among the services provided by UNICEF and the other aid organizations in the camp are schools.

Many of the young boys are being forced to work and young girls are being forced into premature marriages. Ahmed, 14, is already working 13-hour days at a restaurant in northern Iraq. “My children used to go to school and now I’m seeing them killing themselves working and coming home exhausted,” says Ahmed’s father in the . “How do you think I feel?”

One in 10 refugee children is thought to be working as cheap labour on farms, in cafes and car repair shops.

Manal, 16, was told by her father she had to leave school and marry an older man. “I felt (my father) was no longer supporting me. I told him I must continue learning,” she says. Her father was just trying to help. He fears for her safety and is worried if anything happens to him. UNICEF intervened and convinced her father to leave her in Grade 10.

“School is absolutely critical,” says Sharpe. “Children are the ones who will rebuild Syria in the future. We need an educated population. It creates a sense of normality plus school is safe and a place where kids can be kids.”

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