Young girl from Syria
© Bengin Ahmad, Creative Commons
Young girl from Syria
Last updated: October 7, 2015

No school today: How war-ravaged Syria is losing an entire generation

Banner Icon “I do know how it feels when you are a kid in a war-torn country like Syria and you cannot go to school,” says 15-year old Ahmad Samir, a Kabul resident, during a gathering organized by the United Nations Foundation in New York on September 27. With his ‘actor of change’ necklace and traditional sandals, the teenager is a passionate advocate of education.

He deplores the fact that half of children in Afghanistan are not enrolled in school, “especially girls because we do not have female teachers,” he adds.

“If war is gone,” he says, with hope, “we will be able to open more doors for education.”

War’s impact on youth is one of the most critical issues for a nation's future.

About 3,000 miles away from Afghanistan, the raging war in Syria has displaced over four million children, mainly in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, according to the latest U.N. data. 

It is a “crisis of biblical proportions,” said the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education earlier in September 2015.

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Photograph: Tabitha Ross/ILO

SINCE THE BLOODSHED started in 2011, after protest movements challenged President Bashar Assad’s authority, about half of the population — 11 million — had to escape the fight. Among them, half are children under 18.

“Conflict zones where there are a lot of kids are the places in the world where we have the hardest time meeting the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Carolyn Miles, CEO of the relief organization Save the Children, during a meeting organized by the U.N. Foundation on September 27.

She is referring to the U.N. set of international development goals starting at the end of 2015.

Ms. Miles reminds that schools in Syria are forced to close because of the conflict. The country used to have an almost 100% enrollment rate.

Today, half of Syrian refugee children are not enrolled in school. In other words, over 2.6 million Syrian children have not been to an education institution in the past three to four years, according to UNICEF.

For the lucky ones who found asylum abroad, they still have to adapt to a new curriculum, which is often in another language or in a different format.

"It is a 'crisis of biblical proportions'"

For instance, Lebanon’s Ministry of Education now requires that Syrian children refugees provide adequate certification to go to school in the small country. The issue is that most of these refugees fled the war without such documents.

Equally worrisome, these young beings are pushed into child labor, exploitation and early marriages.

A July 2015 report published by Save the Children and UNICEF found that Syrian children contribute to the family income in 75% of the surveyed families. In Jordan, nearly half of Syrian children – sometimes as young as six years old – are a major or unique breadwinner. They usually earn US$4 to US$7 a day.

In the worst cases, these children are taking part in the war or illegal activities. They are regularly sexually exploited too.

THE SYRIAN CRISIS illustrates the challenges in dealing with the growing number of refugees on the planet. In fact, there have never been as many displaced people in the world as today, according to the UN. The total global figure reached 60 million by the end of 2014.

“For the first time, the refugee issue is at the very center of the agenda,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in New York on September 27.

“The difference (with the previous years) is that in 2015, refugees for the first time came massively into the developed world, which is why there is now so much attention on the issue,” he adds.

Yet, 86% of the refugees across the globe are in developing nations, according to data released by the UN's refugee agency UNHCR.

“Being a refugee or an immigrant is first thinking about survival, not getting a business or going to school,” explains 15-year old Lina, an Iraqi who was born and raised in Denmark.

Her father moved to the European country after being a soldier for 12 years in Iraq. “He decided that he could die tomorrow if he stayed there.”

Kamilia Lahrichi
Kamilia Lahrichi is a foreign correspondent based in Argentina. In March 2015, the Moroccan government awarded a merit trophy for her work as a journalist. She covers international affairs in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. She is regularly translated into Chinese. Kamilia Lahrichi is the recipient of the 2015 National Press Foundation Journalism Fellowship in Abu Dhabi and two United Nations Foundation’s Press Fellowship in 2014 in New York City. Prior to that, she was an editor at Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong and she appeared on Radio Television Hong Kong to analyze Middle Eastern affairs.
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