As Delivered ,26 January 2016:
Syria is probably the most dangerous place on earth to be a child. Every day, children are killed, injured, or scarred for life.
Even the very simple act of playing is no longer safe. A few months ago 19 children were killed in a playground in Homs as they were celebrating the Eid holidays. The same week, six children were killed when a mortar hit a UNICEF supported child friendly space in Aleppo. I will always be haunted by the faces of mothers and children of A’krama school in Homs during the memorial ceremony after a bombing outside a school killed at least 30 children between the ages of 9-11.
The impact of this war on education has been staggering. Two million children are out of school. One in four schools can no longer be used. Thirty-five schools were attacked last year. The education sector has lost over 52,000 teachers because they were killed or forced to flee the conflict.
For a country that before the conflict had more than 90% school enrollment rates, Syria has now lost two decades of educational progress.
There is a real risk that a whole generation of children will be “lost.
One symptom of this is the increasing number of children becoming involved in the war itself. At the start of the conflict, children were taking on support roles, as cooks or porters. Today, we see more – and younger – children right on the front lines, manning checkpoints, carrying weapons, and even taking part in the fighting and executions, sometimes.
War is putting immense pressure on basic services and civilian infrastructure.
Water availability in Syria has dropped down by 70%. Facilities have been directly attacked and – at times –water was cut off deliberately a tactic of war. Last summer it happened more than 40 times in Aleppo, leaving whole neighborhoods without running water for two consecutive week. Children bore the brunt. Instead of playing and going to school children were forced to fetch water, some got killed by mortars while doing so.
In 2013, UNICEF helped launch the “No Lost Generation” initiative with the aim of putting education and the protection of children at the centre of the humanitarian response.
Hundreds of schools were rehabilitated and work on innovative self-learning is reaching children living in the most dangerous areas.
This work is carried out by staff and partners on the ground like the Syrian Arab Red Crescent across the country. The same teams have managed to put safe water within reach of nearly eight million people – and deliver it by trucks, rehabilitating wells and critical infrastructure reparation.
But this is not enough.
Less than two weeks ago, in a make shift hospital in Madaya, together with my colleagues I watched with horror as a sixteen-year old boy named Ali died before our eyes from the complications of severe malnutrition.
His friend Hassan who we were so relieved to evacuate from Madaya passed away a couple of days ago. He also died from severe complications due to malnutrition.
That is why on behalf of Ali and Hassan and millions of Syria’s children, I join my other colleagues and millions around the world in calling on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to let us do our work on the ground and provide humanitarian workers with unimpeded, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access.
Finally, I call upon parties to the conflict to end attacks on water facilities and on schools and education in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. Schools are a place of learning, a space for children to heal as well as a safe haven to foster normalcy and hope for a better future.