With children in the United States heading back to school over the next few weeks, it can be difficult to imagine that one million children are being denied the chance to not only return to school, but to even remain in their homes.

Syria has made headlines in recent days with the current UN investigation of whether chemical warfare has been used against citizens. And with millions of people, almost 50% of which are children, fleeing their homes and livelihoods for the safety of surrounding countries just to stay alive, the education of their children has been placed to the side for the time being.

While 1 million Syrian children are being forced to flee with or without their families, another 2 million are estimated to be displaced within the country itself. Like the rest, they are unable to get an education. The longer they have to stay away from school and the older they get, the less likely it is that they will make it back to finish their education.

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor Antonia Guterres, UN High Commissioner, states, “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures.” The children are part of what is being called the “lost generation”.

Even if the conflicts end in Syria, without an education the current generation will be hard-pressed to make any real changes or return stability to the country. These children are also suffering from the trauma of witnessing war up close and experiencing things no person should have to experience.

Jana Mason, a UNHCR senior adviser told Huffington Post, “It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that … when Syria is peaceful enough in the future and people start returning home, we’ll have a generation [of people] who are undereducated and traumatized. The future for Syria is very distressing.” The poverty and conflict will therefore continue in a vicious cycle, affecting more and more people as time goes one.

Those living in the refugee camps are going without food, water, or medical attention. Children born in the camps are often lacking a birth certificate and are considered “stateless” as a result. There have been reports of child labor, child marriage, and sex trafficking throughout the refugee areas. Parents have to be more concerned with these immediate issues that affect whether a child will live, die, or have a home, than with less obviously substantial things like schooling.

For many the problem comes more from the inability to provide transportation to school, supplies, or lunches even though there is free schooling offered in the area they have fled to.

Initially the citizens of the countries they are fleeing to, like Jordan, were opening their doors and doing whatever they could to assist those escaping the war. But, as with many things, over time the welcome has cooled off and people are finding help less frequently. Schools are packed and running double shifts, hospitals are denying people entry, and medicine, food, and water are becoming scarce.

UNICEF is begging that the developed countries of the world come to the aid of these children. The UN states that only 38% of the necessary $3 billion to help the refugees has been funded so far. This is being described as the largest humanitarian effort of all time, and still there is not enough being done. The children of Syria deserve the chance to continue their education and live peacefully.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, CBS
Photo: The Guardian

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia

Women in War is the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary approach to addressing problems that females face in impoverished and conflict-ridden states. By conducting research in affected areas, the program strives to produce pragmatic community and policy-based solutions.

Although Women in War has worked in countries ranging from Sierra Leone to Sudan, it has concentrated the majority of its efforts into ending sexual assault and violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For decades, DRC has been embroiled in what has been referred to as the greatest multistate war in the African continent.

Despite its estimated worth of $24 trillion in natural resources (DRC holds up to a third of worldwide diamond reserves), DRC’s annual GDP per capita of $171 is shockingly low. Just as political instability and social unrest have undoubtedly contributed to its struggling economy, they too have factored into the prevalence of sexual assault–often by military personnel–against civilians.

While the roots of gender-based violence are manifold, Jocelyn Kelly, an HHI Research Coordinator, postulates that soldiers–who are often enlisted at a young age through coercion–may justify rape by dissociating their actions from themselves as individuals. It has been noted that the crude process of army initiation dehumanizes the soldiers and strips them of their former identities. Moreover, among soldiers, there exists the superstitious belief that rape may lead to victory on the battlefield.

The aftermath of sexual assault is equally complex. Many women have been raped in the confines of their own homes and in front of their loved ones. Naturally, rape may also result in unwanted pregnancies and/or damage to a woman’s reproductive organs, thereby adding tangible reminders on top of psychological wounds. Women in War has sought the skills and expertise of both gynecologists and counselors to give survivors a new lease–both inside and out–on life.

A helping hand has also been extended to the perpetrators. Researchers have been developing methods to reintegrate traumatized ex-soldiers into civilian society. By recognizing the humanity inherent in both the survivor and the offender, Women in War serves as a beacon of hope in times of strife.

– Melrose Huang

Sources: Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Women Under Siege Project BBC The OTC Investor Global Security PBS
Photo: Ms. Magazine

Two years of war have severely destabilized Syria’s economy. The Syrian pound, valued at 47 to the US dollar before the outbreak of hostilities, now trades at 330, around 15% of pre-war value. Similarly, unemployment now stands five times the rate it was two years ago, the public sector has suffered a loss of $15 billion, and the economy as a whole has shrunk by 35%.

Worse though is Syria’s growing reliance on foreign aid, specifically that from Iran, Russia, and China. Due to the destruction of factories, disruption of agriculture, and shrinking oil revenues as rebels control oil fields and Western countries impose sanctions, Syria no longer able maintains its former level of self-sufficiency.

A result of the government’s struggles may soon be a reversion to a stricter socialist policy, similar to how the country was run in the 1980s. Ironically, it is reforms instituted by Bashar al-Assad at the beginning of his presidency that are now being reviewed. Should these changes go into effect, the modest reforms toward an open market and private business could reverse, with greater government control on wages and subsidized goods.

Despite the government’s troubles and the spiraling currency, it is unclear whether the country’s economic crisis will play a factor in the ongoing civil war. The government blames foreign sanctions and the opposition on the economic difficulties for the conflict, and due to the national division it is quite probable that the situation will not influence the population in either direction. But whether it makes a difference politically, the fighting takes its toll on the economy, and those Syrians who have not yet become refugees are feeling the hardship all the same.

– David Wilson

Sources: New York Times Washington Post
Photo: NPR

For hundreds of years, humans have been developing the modern-day laws of war to determine what is legal in the context of armed conflict. For the most part, such laws have been set to govern international armed conflict, such as the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, the Internet, traditional media sources, and social media connect us to daily atrocities, carried out under the guise of war that continue to violate international humanitarian law and prey on the extreme poor. As a result of violations that inhibit domestic and international aid, millions of people face hunger and disease in association with extreme poverty that goes unaddressed by international courts.

In 1945, when WWII was won by the Allied Forces, with 6 million dead in concentration camps, the responsible Nazi officers were tried for war crimes. All of the Allied nations, though not initially supporting the format of the trials themselves, backed the justice meted out by the Allied courts as a response. Some of the officers faced death, while others were sentenced to prison.

Today, the international body charged with bringing justice to war-torn nations, the International Criminal Court, fails to be recognized by the United States and many other influential countries that affect the global-political environment of the United Nations. Without having all countries as signatories, the ICC struggles to address atrocities being committed in some of the world’s poorest and most disenfranchised communities.

Because the ICC depends on participation from countries hosting alleged criminals to assert jurisdiction over the criminals within that host country’s borders, a lack of participation effectively cripples the ability of the Court to perform its duties in upholding international humanitarian law. In some cases, domestic courts are left to deliver justice, which, in the context of Syria, becomes all but impossible, seeing as the target of charges is the country’s president.

Because the poorest communities are often targeted by the perpetrators of war crimes, such as leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army Jospeh Kony, it may be all the more necessary that international courts acquire jurisdiction over these otherwise ungoverned warlords. The most impoverished are often the first casualties of war and feel the effects of a diminished food supply, lacking sanitation, and inadequate first aid facilities. Refugees of war in Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable in the face of natural disasters and the long-term effects of climate change.

– Herman Watson

Source: USHMM, International Criminal Court, WarChild UK
Photo: Save the Children

child soldier facts
The subject of many a documentary, news report, and even novel, the figure of the child soldier emerged onto the global stage in the late 20th century, largely the result of publicized conflicts in places like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The heartbreaking and sometimes frightening images of children—almost all of them African boys—turned into violent killers captured the attention of many in the west.  Like most images, these tell only a part of the story.  Here are five important and sobering facts about child soldiers.

1. Not all child soldiers are African. The organization Child Soldiers International reports that “since 2000, the participation of child soldiers has been reported in most armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world.” No exact figures have been compiled, but some estimates put the number at 250,000 child soldiers currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Countries where child soldiers can be found include Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, India, Somalia, and Yemen.

2. Child soldiers do more than just fight. Child soldiers not only fight on the front lines, but they also serve as runners, spies, and in some cases human shields. Many of them are also sexually abused and exploited.

3. Not all child soldiers are boys. Girls under 18 are often recruited or captured during conflicts, and most of the time they suffer sexual abuse and exploitation. An estimated 40% of child soldiers are girls.

4. Child soldiers are both recruited and forced into serving. Many soldiers are violently kidnapped and forced to serve in armies or in opposition groups.  Some, however, are drawn in because poverty and deprivation leave them vulnerable to the promise of money, food, and clothing if they take up arms. Desperation proves to be a powerful motivating force for some children.

5. Child soldiers can be and have been rehabilitated. Despite the horrors they have suffered and in many cases committed, these soldiers are children forced or lured into war. Many organizations around the globe work to provide the therapy, medical attention, and education that these children need. Hundreds of former soldiers have benefited from this kind of care and been reunited with family members and loved ones.

– Délice Williams

Sources: Child, Peace Direct USA
Photo: MW

A group of 14 UK-based NGOs, The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), has made an “emergency appeal” to provide aid to Syria, which is struggling under the duress of a civil war. With recent news of chemical warfare being used against civilians and a death toll that has reached nearly 70,000, aid groups are struggling to keep up with the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Recent estimates place at least 8,000 refugees fleeing the country per day, compared to 1,000 per day a few months ago.  Because of mass displacement and intense fighting, NGOs and other aid groups are finding it extremely difficult to reach civilians who are in need. Members of the DEC have been able to extend aid to refugees who have fled to other surrounding countries, and a number of other groups have had success reaching people throughout Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and other areas throughout northern Syria.

The UN asserted that although they have requested $1.5 billion in emergency aid, only a small portion of that need has been met. The DEC’s Chief Executive, Saleh Saeed, said that even though a number of agencies are attempting to work together in the region, there remain a high number of civilians in urgent need, and that “the greatest challenge to meeting those needs remains the barriers to delivering aid which are faced by impartial humanitarian agencies such as our members,” as well as financial pressures.

The total number of people who are in need of aid directly stemming from the situation in Syria has reached 5 million, as the DEC plans to appeal to public and government officials for additional help.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

Mental Illness Affected More By Poverty Than War
The citizens of Afghanistan have now weathered a 12-year war in the country and, as U.S. and as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014, a new study confirms that poverty and vulnerability are more significant to the development of mental illness and anxiety than exposure to war.

The study, focusing on war and mental health in Afghanistan, says that war is undoubtedly an identifiable precursor to mental illness, but that poverty and vulnerability are actually “stronger and probably more persistent risk factors that have not received deserved attention in policy decisions,” said Dr. Jean-Francois Trani.

The study elaborates on the origins of mental illness and political violence, saying that unemployment and lack of access to resources contribute to the absence of one’s place in a social hierarchy, which leads to mental anguish that, in turn, can cause young people to act violently towards any government or institutions of authority.

The study calls these social and cultural predetermined factors “social exclusion mechanisms,” and maintains that these factors were in place before war began, but are exacerbated by military conflict. The researchers recommend that policymakers take into account all factors of these at-risk groups to create a more stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Washington University in Saint Louis
Photo: Trends Updates


Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may finally be on its way. With nearly four million people killed since the outbreak of the war in 1998, the DRC is one of the deadliest countries on earth.

Although some kind of comfort and lull may have briefly calmed the residents of the DRC, the recent attack in November by the M23 rebel group had taken over the provincial capital of Goma. Following the attack, a series of riots and chaos erupted around the city, concerning peacemakers and leaders and raising serious questions about the stability in Congo.

There has been a U.N. report that the M23 rebel group was supported by Rwanda, but President Kagame denied the accusation to CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. In their interview together, Kagame told Amanpour, “It’s a big ‘no’ on the issue of saying that I am accepting this kind of responsibility, but what I am accepting is that people can work together to find a solution to this problem that affects Rwanda [and] also affects the Congo.”

Congo’s conflict has seriously threatened development. Considered as the deadliest and one of the poorest countries in the world, the emphasis on peace has become a key to the leaders and peacemakers of the DRC and other nations.

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon stated, “Peace is really now at our reach in the whole of the DRC. If M23 rebels did not have external support to come and destabilize both territories, by now, we would have had peace and security in the whole of the DRC.”

While peace cannot be obtained overnight, Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon is currently striving for peace by pursuing further diplomacy at the United Nations, in the United States and in Washington, D.C.

Jada Chin

Source: CNN