Syria's children approach 10-year anniversary in deepening education crisis

Save the Children says a third of schools are shut in a country ravaged by conflict

Internally displaced Syrian children walk in a mud near tents at a camp in northern Aleppo near the Syrian-Turkish border, Syria February 17, 2021. Picture taken February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

A humanitarian leader on Thursday warned of an “education crisis” in Syria, because children are suffering more from fighting, hunger and poverty than at any other point in the 10-year conflict.

And now they are having to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Sonia Khush, the Syria country director for Save the Children, told UN diplomats that most children in the nation know nothing but war and few have seen the inside of a classroom.

Syrians will next month mark the 10th anniversary of the start of protests against President Bashar Al Assad, which started a civil war between government loyalists, rebels, extremists and foreign forces.

“We are facing an unprecedented education crisis in Syria,” Ms Khush told the online UN Security Council briefing.

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“The combination of conflict, displacement, poverty and now Covid-19 has created the conditions in which millions of children are missing out on an education.”

Two thirds of children in northern Syria have no access to education because schools have been battered by shelling and air strikes, are frequently used by armed groups and often surrounded by unexploded bombs, she said.

Teachers in the country's north-east, much of which is administered by Kurdish authorities, say that 79 per cent of pupils dropped out to work and help their struggling families, Ms Khush said.

In the north-west, under a fragile truce between Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces, half of the teachers are working without pay and hundreds of others have gone on strike over unpaid wages, she said.

“Children today are facing a graver reality than at any other point in the 10-year conflict,” Ms Khush said.

“They are more likely to be in need of humanitarian assistance, more likely to go hungry, to die from preventable diseases, miss out on school and face protection risks.”

The UN's head of humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, said more than 500,000 Syrian children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth, with rates highest in the north-west and north-east.

“The effects this will have on their development and learning will be lifelong and irreversible,” Mr Lowcock said.

“Malnutrition ... has become so normal that parents cannot spot the signs in their own children.”

Millions of people left Syria and millions more fled their homes since a crackdown by the government on protesters in March 2011 led to a civil war that has dragged in Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US and others.