30 November 2016
Thank you, Mr. President, distinguished members, ladies and Gentlemen.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Security Council today on the plight of children in Syria.
To say that the situation is tragic, Mr. President, would be an understatement.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what words could still adequately convey the unspeakable horrors endured by Syria’s children every day. Tens of thousands of children have already been killed. Millions have been uprooted, some more than once. Too many have been deprived of basic medical care and safe drinking water. Too many have witnessed the death of their loved ones and the destruction of the places they once thought are safe: their homes, their schools, their playgrounds. Simply put, Syria’s children are trapped in a living nightmare.
We must ask ourselves: what is left of childhood for the boys and girls of Syria?
We have just heard from my colleague, Stephen O’Brien, how devastating the past few days have been for the people of Aleppo. As we consider the events unfolding there, I would like us all to pause for a moment and imagine life through the eyes of a child trapped in that tragic situation. As a boy or girl in Aleppo today, where do you find comfort and hope, amidst the bombs? Determined to learn, you attend school whenever your parents allow you to leave the house, but you do not know any more if you will ever come back. It is hard for you as a child to focus because it is cold and you don’t sleep well, haunted by nightmares and hunger.
Mr. President, distinguished members,
Children wonder why this is happening. Children are wondering why no one is helping to stop this.
Amir, a five year old boy, is one of those children. Our team met him in Aleppo very recently. He and his sister were playing outside when their house was shelled. His sister was injured in the face and eye, while Amir sustained severe burns all over his body. He had to undergo two painful surgeries to replace the burned skin in one of the very few health facilities remaining in Aleppo.
Harsh as it may sound, Amir was lucky.
But some children are not as lucky.
In western Aleppo, we met a father living with the trauma and deep regret of simply letting his eight and ten year old daughters go to school. They left their makeshift home one morning with their schoolbags on their backs. Only their lifeless bodies returned after a shell slammed into their classroom. UNICEF colleagues could barely look into the eyes of the father suffering so much pain.
As this Council heard last week, the health system in eastern Aleppo is crumbling. Doctors on the ground told UNICEF that children with poor chances of survival are often simply left to die due to limited capacity and supplies.
Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Council,
The violence must stop. Nothing justifies the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, especially children. Parties to the conflict must protect civilians- not least children- and allow immediate access for humanitarian agencies to provide assistance. UNICEF, together with our partners, has been and continues to be ready to respond immediately as soon as a humanitarian pause is agreed.
Beyond the grim situation in Aleppo, we estimate that 6 million children inside Syria are today in need of humanitarian assistance. Over 2 million of these children are in hard-to-reach areas, which humanitarian agencies cannot access on a regular basis. Nearly half a million (children) live under siege, cut off from humanitarian aid and basic services. Some of these children have been living under siege for two years. UNICEF and partners strive on a daily basis to deliver timely and quality assistance to the most vulnerable children throughout Syria. Allow me to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all humanitarians working courageously on the front lines for Syria’s children.
When we have access, we can achieve a great deal.
During the month of October alone, UNICEF and partners reached 2.9 million Syrians with urgently needed assistance, including 350,000 in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. Since January, over 3 million children under five have been vaccinated through polio campaigns. Back-to-Learning supplies have reached nearly 3 million children. Urgent maintenance to water and sanitation systems have allowed millions to access safe water. And essential nutrition supplies have reached nearly 300,000 people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas through interagency convoys.
Working together with our partners, we can and have made life just a little more bearable for Syrian children. Sadly, however, we often fail. Not due to lack of our commitment; not due to lack of readiness.
As the children wait for us, they are wondering why.
Schools have come under relentless attack all over the country. This year has been particularly devastating for education. Since the beginning of 2016, the UN has documented 84 attacks on schools across Syria, with at least 69 children losing their lives and many more injured. Across the country, more than 7,000 schools can no longer be used because they are destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or being used for military purposes. The result is that, 1.7 million children and adolescents in Syria are out of school.
In the worst affected areas, safe water is either scarce or costs too much. In collective shelters or households hosting displaced families, toilets have to be shared with dozens of people and hygiene conditions are extremely poor. Only one third of Syria’s sewage is now treated. The violence has destroyed water infrastructure and, in some cases, parties to the conflict have cut water deliberately, using it as a tactic of war. Earlier this year, UNICEF reported that water in Aleppo was cut for 48 days.
Since the beginning of the conflict, families all over Syria have been reporting grave violations against their children, violations committed by all parties. The Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict has briefed this Council on a regular basis on these violations. In 2015 alone, the UN has verified 1,500 grave children’s rights violations including killing, maiming, the recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access. Harrowing as these numbers are, they represent only those we were able to verify. Imagine how many more remain unreported or unconfirmed.
Mr. President, distinguished members,
As the violence continues to intensify in Aleppo, children will continue to pay a heavy price.
Children ask why their loved ones have died.
Mothers and fathers in Aleppo feel helpless as they struggle to feed their children while prices of food and other commodities have almost doubled, putting children at serious risk of malnutrition. Violence, displacement, and road blocks mean that many children cannot access life-saving health care anymore. Every checkpoint crossed presents a set of dangers for children the risk of being exploited, the risk of being recruited or the risk of simply getting caught in cross-fire.
We’ve all seen the images.
Brave men and women pulling bodies of babies from under the rubble.
Babies taken out of incubators because of attacks on hospitals.
Little boys and girls, many injured, many pleading for help, many dead
Yesterday, many of us saw the girl in the pink coat, standing amid the shelling. Shocked, terrified, confused, searching for her father whom she lost in the chaos of havoc and violence…
Children ask “why”.
We ask “why”.
The devastating downward spiral has to end. Today, every single child under the age of five has known nothing but a lifetime shaped by war.
Until recently, over 90 per cent of them attended school, nearly all children were regularly vaccinated, malnutrition was almost non-existent. Syria was among the first Arab countries to ratify the Convention for the Rights of the Child.
Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Council,
The protection of children should be, at all times, a primary consideration for all of us. We have failed them over the last six years, and we continue to fail the children in Syria. This is not only jeopardizing children’s lives, but the future of the country, the future of the region and the future of the whole world.
UNICEF and its partners will continue to do everything we can to provide assistance to children and their families, wherever in the country they may reside. I take this opportunity to thank Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien for their tireless support and determination to help us reach those children in need.
Let us be clear: as long as the violence continues, children in Syria will continue to suffer. UNICEF renews its call on all parties to lift the sieges across Syria, and to allow and facilitate immediate, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to all areas across the country. We call upon the parties to uphold their obligations to protect children. These are our children. They are our future. They are in your hands.
Until the guns are silenced, and remain silent, children in Syria will continue to ask us, ask you why.
Thank you so much.