Nearly nine years of conflict in Syria have robbed boys and girls of their childhood and subjected them to “unabated
violations of their rights”, including being killed, maimed, displaced, forced to fight or subjected to torture, rape
and sexual slavery.
The findings come in the latest report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria
, released on Thursday.
“I am appalled by the flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child
by all parties involved in the conflict”, said
Commission chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.
“While the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic has the primary responsibility for the protection of boys and girls in
the country, all of the actors in this conflict must do more to protect children and preserve the country’s future
The three-member Commission was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council
to investigate and record all violations of international law related to the Syrian conflict, which began in March
Its latest report is entitled: They have erased the dreams of my children - a quote taken from a 2012 interview with a woman discussing attacks on her village in Idlib.
The study is based on approximately 5,000 interviews conducted between September 2011 and October 2019 with Syrian
children, but also eyewitnesses, survivors, relatives of survivors, medical professionals, defectors, members of armed
groups, healthcare professionals, lawyers and other affected communities.
The Commission said the use of cluster munitions, so-called thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons by pro-Government
forces, have caused scores of child casualties.
Additionally, children’s experiences in the conflict “have been deeply gendered.”
Women and girls worst affected
Women and girls are “disproportionally affected” by sexual violence, and the threat of rape has led to restrictions in
their movements. Girls have been confined to their homes, removed from school or faced obstacles to access health care.
Meanwhile, boys, particularly those 12 and over, have been arrested and kept in detention facilities, and targeted for
recruitment by armed groups and militia.
“The younger ones are very good fighters. They fight with enthusiasm and are fearless. Fighters who are 14 -17 years old
are on the frontline”, a person associated with an armed group told the authors.
The war has also had an impact on access to education, with more than 2.1 million children not regularly attending
classes of any form.
“Urgent efforts are required by the Syrian Government to support as many children as possible to return to education.
Armed groups holding territory also need to act with haste to facilitate access to education,” said Karen AbuZayd, one
of the commissioners.
Commit to protecting children
The report also expresses concern over the severe impact the conflict has had on children’s long-term physical and
Large numbers of young Syrians now have disabilities as well as devastating psychological and development issues.
Additionally, fighting has displaced some five million children.
As the mother in Idlib stated: “They have erased the dreams of my children. They have destroyed what we have built
during our whole life; my daughter was so depressed when she found out that our house was burnt down. My other child, a
three-year-old boy, is traumatized by the crisis. He is continuously drawing tanks.”
The Commission members called on all sides to “commit in writing” to granting children special protection during
wartime, in line with international law.
Other recommendations include ending child recruitment and taking child rights into consideration during military
They stressed that displaced children also require protection, which includes the obligation to repatriate children with
family ties to ISIL extremist fighters.
“States have well defined obligations to protect children, including from statelessness. Failing to abide by such
fundamental principles would be a clear derogation of duty,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally.