Story by Giovanna Steel, National Headquarters, RFL Intern
It has been over three years since the start of the devastating civil war in Syria. Although this conflict began with peaceful street protests, it eventually transformed into an armed insurgency and has now escalated into a civil war with sectarian dimensions. It is estimated that over 140,000 people have died, and that close to 10,000 of those deaths have been children. The plight of minors in Syria is becoming ever more worrisome, with UNICEF recently stating that over 5.5 million children are in need of assistance. This figure is further compounded by the close to 3 million children that have been displaced.
A Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, published in early 2014, states that “children in Syria have experienced a high level of distress as a result of witnessing the killing and injuring of members of their families and peers, or of being separated from their family and/or displaced.” As an intern for the Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross, the issue of family separation resonates strongly with me. Family provides the first line of defense and protection for children and is often the most knowledgeable source for determining the best interest of a child. It is family that provides emotional, mental, and physical security for children. This is especially true during times of conflict where uncertainty, fear, and the threat of violence form present reality.
It is difficult to conceptualize the future when the present is so uncertain. Families are the support systems that can frame these fears in the light of their own personal experiences and cultural context, in order to be a source of fortitude during a period of crisis. Children are incredibly resilient, but it is the power and positive impact that maintaining family connections can have on the prevention, recovery, and progression from trauma to stability that truly inspires. If the children of Syria are to be protected from becoming a ‘lost generation,' all actors (including the international community) must work together to ensure that maintaining and re-establishing family contact remains a priority.
The restoring of family links is clearly a vital component of child protection, but it is equally important to mention the other barriers that face the children of Syria. They are currently living in an active conflict zone, or have been displaced throughout the region, and have actively witnessed the collapse of vital health, education, and livelihood sectors which will have a negative impact on their personal futures. When discussing children, the deterioration of services and infrastructure is often framed as being outside their realm of understanding. This way of thinking provides a disservice to children and limits their self-determination. Children are aware of their present condition, and most definitely understand and feel the impact it will have on their futures. A child easily comprehends that they are no longer receiving an education; that the stability of their community is being eroded, that poverty and fear is continuously being exacerbated, and that threats to their security are real.
When I started writing for this blog post, I had intended to focus on the resiliency of children and the family bonds that support the successful development of individuals from childhood to active members of society. However, what has most affected me has been the understanding that families will overcome whatever is necessary to protect their children, that the strength and extension of family bonds holds a universal understanding rooted in love and compassion. It is this bond of compassion, family, love, and protection that has mobilized multiple actors to jointly work towards protecting the most vulnerable in Syria. This gives me faith and hope in the future. I know that we will not let the children of Syria become a ‘lost generation.’