SYRIA'S children are a 'lost generation' - ruined by the devastation of a civil war that has just reached its fifth year.

UNICEF says the lives of 3.7 million Syrian children born since the conflict began have been "shaped by violence, fear and displacement." The figure includes more than 151,000 children born as refugees since 2011.

UNICEF believes some 8.4 million children – more than 80 per cent of Syria’s child population – are now affected by the conflict, either inside the country or as refugees.

“In Syria, violence has become commonplace, reaching homes, schools, hospitals, clinics, parks, playgrounds and places of worship,” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Nearly seven million children live in poverty, making their childhood one of loss and deprivation.”

UNICEF verified nearly 1,500 "grave violations" against children in 2015. More than one-third of these children were killed while in school or on their way to or from it.

“Five years into the war, millions of children have grown up too fast and way ahead of their time,” Dr Salama added. “As the war continues, children are fighting an adult war, they are continuing to drop out of school, and many are forced into labour, while girls are marrying early.”

A new report by aid organisation Mercy Corps, Age of Unrest, says an entire generation of Syrian youth is reaching adulthood after their childhoods were shaped by war.

Almost one in four of the 2.4 million Syrian refugees under 18 is a teenager. Mercy Corps says the multi-billion-pound aid effort has largely overlooked these young people, and is now calling for major new investments in Syrian youth, "whose decisions will shape a trajectory of either peace or continuing instability in the Middle East".

Michael Young, Senior Adviser, Mercy Corps, added: "If we don't invest heavily in young people's well-being, education and employment starting now, then we risk seeing a whole generation, over a million people, who feel alienated from society. Instead of rebuilding the social, economic and physical capital of Syria and the region, they'd be left adrift without the skills and ability to make good life choices - a potential source of instability rather than stabilisation and growth."

Today the Sunday Herald hears from five children and young people caught up in the brutal conflict.


ACCORDING to UNICEF's report, No Place for Children, a third of all Syrian marriages in refugee camps in Jordan involve girls or young women under 18. Girls as young as 12 or 13 are giving birth, causing untold physical damage.

Qamar, 14, has lived as a refugee in Jordan for five years. She has been married for half that time and is now a mother. She is a child with a child. "Before I got married, I was young with no responsibilities," she says. "I didn't think about the future. I was living with my parents. But since I got married, I have responsibilities: a small child. It's nothing like the life I had as a single girl."

Qamar says of her child: "I will make her understand about my situation and hopefully I'll motivate her to study and to become someone. I won't let her get married too young. I won't allow her not to complete her education. I will stand by her."


JUST a few years ago, Sami was working hard at school in Aleppo as his dream was to become a doctor. But when bombs wrecked his school and his home, his family fled to Turkey as refugees.

“It’s hard to imagine what I’ll be in the future,” says Sami, 15. “I try to imagine that if I grew older and passed away, what impressions would I leave? How would people remember me?”

Back in Aleppo, Sami would drift off to sleep to the voices of his family downstairs, now he is kept awake by the memory of people he has seen dying in war. One friend’s father was killed in Syria. Another friend was beaten up as a refugee in Turkey. “I know a number of people who were hurt, and they tried to cover this by hurting others. They tried to act as if they were stronger than the situation, but this turned them into hideous people and didn’t make them better or stronger.”

At a Mercy Corps youth centre in Gaziantep, Sami is able to keep an eye on the future while being part of a community again. His aim is to return to Syria so he can attend medical school and achieve his dream so that he can help his country heal the wounds of war. “I am working to develop myself now so I can be someone important and notable in the future,” he says. “Someone that people would remember after 100 years.”

He thinks often of his native land and can see what is still to come.“I can see my future. I just need a chance, an opportunity. I don’t just want to sit and watch TV. I want to do something and be remembered.”


DALIA was nearing her sixteenth birthday when her mother and five siblings first arrived in Lebanon from Syria. They thought they would be there for just a month. Three years later, they are still there, still seeking refuge. Back in her native Aleppo, she was just one grade away from graduating from high school and starting a new life at university. She wanted to stay in school for as long as she possibly could but the city became a wasteland without water and electricity. When even bread became scarce, her family knew it was time to leave.

Her brother has already tried to return home but he was shot by a sniper. He recovered in Turkey, and is still there. As for Dalia: “I could have passed the exam three years ago. I’m not a quitter. I want to be a flight engineer and I’m going to be a flight engineer. The only thing that I’m sad about is I have wasted three years.”

The teenager is currently involved in a Mercy Corps youth centre in Sidon, which has allowed her to study English and computing. Last year, she ran for a seat on the girls’ student council at the centre, pledging to bake a cake and to lobby for dancing classes if she won.“I motivate myself,” she says. “Being alive is enough for me. Being alive means that I am capable of surviving no matter how tough and stark the circumstances get. I am a determined person who gets things done.” Once the war is over in Syria, she will return and help begin the long process of rebuilding. The first thing she will do will be to sit the test she needs for her aviation career to take off. After that? “I’ll be Dalia, who will rebuild her country and contribute to her community.”


RASAL is just five years old. The first time she and her family tried to flee devastated Syria, they were shot at. It became too dangerous for them to continue. But they made a later attempt and this time succeeded in reaching the Greek island of Lesbos.

But this journey was not without its perils: the family had to cross mountains by foot before setting sail in a flimsy rubber craft that ended up capsizing on rocks. Rasal lost all her possessions when the boat sank. The family also had to endure rough treatment at the hands of smugglers.

“I always remember fighting in my country," she says. "It’s always been scary. We had to leave my home in Syria. Mum says it was too dangerous to stay."

Not surprisingly, she was terrified by what happened during that crossing. “When we got on the boat I was really scared. We were on the boat for a really long time. I was hungry and thirsty and the waves were so big, they kept coming over our heads. I got really wet and cold. My big sister was scared we were going to die. It was scary at the end because the boat crashed into some rocks and sank. I fell into the water and I lost all my things."

The ActionAid charity, which has established two women’s centres on Lesbos to support some of the most vulnerable women, said: "Along with thousands of other children, Rasal has witnessed horrors and experienced a level of fear that no child should ever have to, which could have damaging effects on her for the rest of her life."


SIBA is now 19. She had to flee southern Syria as a minor when, in her own words, "life became too dangerous for us. The turning point came when a bomb went off and my father was injured in the face and hands. After that, the whole family fled to Jordan. My parents are still there. But I came to Europe with my brother and sister, who is six years old."

Now living on Lesbos, Siba, who wants to become a doctor, continues: "All I long for is to have a peaceful life for me and my family. I hope to go to Germany. I also dream of being reunited with my parents. So, once the necessary paperwork is done, I want them to join us too.

"Although things are very bad in Syria I still have warm feelings for my home country. There is no place like it. But right now it is too dangerous for us."

At a womensy centre, she met Anna, an ActionAid cultural mediator. "Anna is also Syrian, so I feel very comfortable with her. When I heard Anna speaking Arabic, I let myself go. I could finally relax. It was as if I had found home again. I know I have a long road ahead but I am determined to find safety and to chase my dream of becoming a doctor."

* With thanks to ActionAid (;Mercy Corps ( and UNICEF

( for their help with this article.