I wish for the war to end and for wars all over the world to end,” said Rami, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee living in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, when asked what she hoped for the future of her country. After six years, the war still rages, and according to a UNICEF report published this week 2016 was the worst year on record for children like Rami.
“Verified instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country,” the report said.
At least 652 children were killed, a 20% increase on 2015, making 2016 the worst year for child casualties since they were formally documented. Of that number, 255 were killed in or near a school. More than 1.7 million children in Syria are not in school, and a third of schools are unusable due to damage, because they are being used to shelter displaced families, or because they have been requisitioned for military purposes.
“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” said UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere. "Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down. Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future."
UNICEF’s findings follow a Save The Children report published earlier this month, which revealed that Syria’s children are suffering from “toxic stress” - an acute form of psychological trauma that can cause lifelong damage.
The study contained some harrowing statistics. Fifty-one percent of adults interviewed by Save The Children said adolescents are turning to drugs to cope with the stress of war. Seventy percent of children interviewed exhibited symptoms of “toxic stress”, such as bedwetting, and around 48% of adults reported seeing children who had lost the ability to speak. The “staggering levels” of trauma could cause irreversible damage to Syria’s next generation.
All Rami wants to do is to go home. “I wish to live in Syria again. I wish for peace so every child can live in their country. I wish to become a teacher so I can teach the children in need.”