For the past decade, Syria has been the center of a brutal civil war. As a result, millions of Syrians face the everyday threats of violence, hunger and disease that wartime poverty brings about. Those most vulnerable to the effects of poverty include Syria’s children. A closer look at child poverty in Syria provides insight into the lives of Syrian children.
10 Facts About Child Poverty in Syria
- Roughly six million Syrian children rely on humanitarian assistance. Syrian children are among the most vulnerable groups in the Syrian civil war. The war has affected more than 11.1 million Syrians, almost half of whom are children.
- Children are unable to attend school. The civil war greatly fuels child poverty in Syria. As parents struggle to afford to send their children to school, many teachers are unpaid and destitute school buildings are collapsing. Nearly 2.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. This number does not include the 750,000 displaced Syrian children in nearby countries who also have no access to education. According to World Vision, the Syrian conflict has “reversed two decades of educational progress.”
- More than half of all Syrian children suffer from hunger. An estimated 60% of the nation’s children are suffering from hunger and 28% endure stunting as a consequence of malnutrition. The percentage of Syrian people suffering from food insecurity is currently the highest it has ever been since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With 6.2 million children currently living in hunger, the numbers are only rising, having increased by roughly 35% from November 2020 to February 2021.
- Child labor is increasing. Faced with the threat of extreme child poverty in Syria, many school-aged boys drop out of school to support their families. These boys regularly work in unsafe situations for little pay. The research study “Survey on Child Labour in Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon: The Case of Syrian Refugees” provides statistics on Syrian child labor. The 2019 study concluded that about 70% of Syrian refugee “children between 4 and 18 years old” were employed, “with an average age of 12.9 years.” Additionally, about 75% of these children worked in the agricultural sector. In this sector, about 30% of working children have experienced injuries.
- Boys are targets for child soldiers. As boys drop out of school to support their families, they are at higher risk of being recruited as child soldiers. With no income to provide for their children, many families resort to sending their young boys for training as child soldiers, believing that it is the best option. In 2021 alone, almost 840 children were recruited as child soldiers, among other roles, with 797 of these children being boys.
- Child marriage is rampant. Many families resort to child marriage to solve their economic situations. Sexual abuse of young girls also runs rampant in crowded refugee camps. Desperate to save their daughters from “child trafficking and sexual exploitation” and unable to economically provide for their children, many families arrange marriages for teenage girls. Out of girls aged 15-19, about 3.8% give birth every year.
- Weather has significant impacts. Millions of displaced and homeless children in Northwest Syria face brutal winters. Their only shelter from the harsh cold is often a tent or severely damaged and unsafe buildings that serve as emergency shelters. Roughly 75% of all Syrian children killed in 2020 came from this part of the country.
- COVID-19 exacerbates poverty: The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated child poverty in Syria. In addition to the 11.1 million Syrians already in need of urgent humanitarian aid, an additional 1.1 million Syrians have found themselves in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also caused the gross domestic product to fall by up to 15% in the nation’s nearby countries, meaning that Syrian refugees seeking refuge in neighboring countries have fallen further into poverty.
- Infrastructure is failing. Only 53% of hospitals are currently in service, greatly adding to child poverty in Syria. Since the start of the war, more than 25,000 children have been killed, a number that is only increasing due to limited healthcare services and lack of access to clean water.
- Children are vulnerable to diseases. Poor sanitation caused by a lack of infrastructure, resources and clean water makes Syrian children vulnerable to cholera and other diarrheal diseases. The lack of accessible healthcare means many children miss their regular health checkups. Extremely cold weather in the northwest part of Syria also makes children susceptible to pneumonia.
Addressing Child Poverty in Syria
To address the issue of child poverty in Syria, UNICEF has sent humanitarian assistance on the ground. UNICEF’s efforts focus on children’s education, health and sanitation, among other goals. In 2020 alone, UNICEF “screened 2.6 million Syrian children and women for acute malnutrition,” improved water services for 3.2 million people and vaccinated roughly 2.6 million children against polio. UNICEF also “supported 2.2 million children with education services in formal settings.”
While the conflict in Syria continues, vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected. The efforts of UNICEF ensure the protection and well-being of millions of Syrian children, reducing child poverty in Syria.
– Caroline Bersch