GENEVA/DAMASCUS, 12 March 2021 - "Greetings from Damascus. It is a pleasure to be with you this morning.
Children gather around a fire to keep warm in Kafr Losin Camp in northwest Syria on 19 January 2021
"Regrettably, after ten years, I have to start this briefing with the simple fact that things are getting worse for children in Syria.
"Specifically today, I would like to speak on four main fronts that continue to impact children in Syria.
"First, the triple crisis of continued conflict, economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s hard to imagine that in 2020, and into 2021, following the most intense years of active conflict, things could actually considerably deteriorate for children. And yet the triple crises of 2020, and spilling into this year, have somehow further exacerbated the situation for Syria’s children.
"What does all this mean in real-life terms? It means that two in three families reported they cannot meet their basic needs. The basic food basket price increased by 236 per cent, and the Syrian pound dropped 78 per cent. COVID-19 has impacted the economy and the social fabric of society. These factors combined significantly increased the risk of negative coping mechanisms. We are seeing an increase in child marriage. More children are having to work, some as young as seven years old. Children are being pushed ever closer to the brink.
"Just a few days ago, while visiting a UNICEF supported centre in Sweida, I talked to 10-year-old Ahmed whose parents took him and his siblings out of school to go work in the local market for a measly daily wage to help provide for the family. Almost every one of the dozens of children in that centre had a similar story.
"Indeed, as we have been planning for the humanitarian response in 2021, we have seen an increase in the number of people in need in Syria. More than 13 million people are in need of support. Half of them - over 6.1 million - are children. This is an increase of 20 per cent in the past year alone.
"Second, for millions of children in Syria, the war is the only thing they know, with a tremendous impact on their psychosocial wellbeing.
"Nearly 5 million children were born inside Syria since the war began in 2011, with an additional 1 million born as refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. These children have known nothing but death, displacement and destruction.
"Almost 6 million people remain displaced within Syria and, since 2012, the number of registered refugee children in neighbouring countries has increased more than ten-fold to 2.5 million children.
"Third, children are still being killed and maimed.
"As many of you will have seen from the statement the day before yesterday from UNICEF’s Executive Director: The protection of children in Syria hangs by a thread. Very few places are safe for Syria’s children.
"Since 2011, nearly 12,000 children were verified killed or injured in Syria – that’s a child every 8 hours, for the past 10 years. And as you will all know, these are the children the UN was able to verify through a strict process. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher.
"Since 2011, nearly 5,700 children were recruited into the fighting. Again, actual figures are probably much higher.
"Grave violations against children continue to be the highest in the northwest where violence and conflict are ongoing. Seventy-five per cent of the total of child casualties across Syria last year were recorded in the northwest, along with nine out of ten attacks on schools and seven out of ten children recruited and used in the conflict.
"And, finally, the war is not only destroying the present day for children in Syria; it is threatening their future. Education used to be the pride of Syria with enrolment rates above 97 per cent before the crisis, but the country is now facing one of the largest education crises in recent history.
"Nearly 3.5 million Syrian children are out of school – including 40 per cent of girls. We cannot overstate what this means to these children now, and to their communities but also for the country in the years ahead.
"What we see on the ground is that the education facilities are overstretched. One in three schools inside Syria can no longer be used because they were destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or are being used for military purposes. Many of the schools are also infested with mines.
"What does this combination of war and no education mean? It means a lack of an opportunity to return to some level of normalcy through education and we have seen a doubling of children reporting psychosocial distress, just last year.
"Finally, I am happy to also speak to the enormity of UNICEF’s actions. In 2020 we were able to reach more than 12 million people across Syria with lifesaving assistance. While the humanitarian response is not going to solve the crisis, it is absolutely critical that UNICEF continues to get the support it needs to provide assistance to Syrian children.
"UNICEF’s response to the needs of Syrian children and their families is one of the largest in our history with a total of US$ 1.4 billion required for 2021. This is in line with the volume and size of humanitarian needs on the ground; not only inside Syria but across the sub-region. Our programmes to respond have been covering six countries where UNICEF’s teams continue to provide for the needs of millions of children."
Children in Syria need our help
11 years of conflict, displacement and destruction have taken its toll - urgent support is needed now.