Syrian children suffered the most war-related violations in 2016 as military conflicts and political games in the embattled country waged on for the sixth year, UNICEF’s latest research showed.
There were more verified records of killing, injuring and recruitment of children last year compared to 2015, according to UNICEF’s “Hitting rock bottom: How 2016 became the worst year for Syria’s children” report, which was released Monday.
About 652 Syrian children were killed last year alone, and more than one-third of the deaths having occurred at or near a school, the report showed. The number of child deaths had climbed by 20 percent from the previous year and was the worst since child casualties documentation started in 2014.
Another 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict in 2016 and some extreme cases included children recruited as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards, UNICEF said.
“The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a release.
Another major problem for Syrian children is the lack of access to medical care and basic medical supplies, which make otherwise preventable diseases a serious problem.
“Targeting of health facilities and health staff increased sharply in 2016, killing and injuring hundreds of medical personnel and civilians,” Bachir Tajaldin, an internist in Syria, said in the UNICEF report.
“Children are missing out on their routine immunizations, exposing them to the risk of disease,” Taljaldin added.
Since the six-year civil war began, nearly 6 million Syrian children have depended on humanitarian aid, and almost 2.3 million are living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Data from Mercy Corps show that Syrians are the largest refugee population in the world — the biggest exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.
Many more Syrians have tried to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The images of drowned refugees in recent years have shocked, but death tolls are still climbing. About 2,510 Syrian refugees died during the journey in just the first half of 2016, UNHCR said.
There are other long-term challenges for Syria’s young, with more than 1.7 million children within the country not attending school because the necessary buildings are destroyed, damaged or used for other purposes.
UNICEF appealed for “an end to all grave violations against children,” and “unconditional and sustained access to all children in need, including those living under siege.”
The agency also called for more support for refugee host governments to assist in ensuring the livelihoods of families.