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A Generation of Illiterate Children in Syria?

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2013 (IPS) - The ongoing conflict in Syria will have dire consequences for future generations, United Nations Special Representative for Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui told the Security Council Monday.

Having just returned from a visit to Syria, the special representative drew attention to the plight of children caught up in the on-going civil war.

Inside Syria, 6.8 million people, half of whom are children, desperately require humanitarian assistance. Families continue to flee Syria to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon in the hope of escaping violence and accessing food, clean water and other basic necessities. Horrendous violations are also committed against Syrian children on a daily basis such as maiming, killing, abduction and sexual violence.

“You go to a hospital and you see a child without a leg and he’s telling you ‘they will fix my leg and I am going to fight!’ and then…you see the brother…lying on the bed who lost [his] kidneys and [his] pancreas and the mother sitting near…This is the reality that you see,” Zerrougui told reporters Monday.

Many schools in Syria are also under attack and are being used as military barracks or prisons. This has deprived thousands of children of their school facilities for many months. Although Lebanon has begun to open its schools to Syrian refugees, these facilities lack the space and resources to accommodate all the students. Differences in language and culturally inappropriate  curriculums pose further challenges.

“They have lost their family, they have lost their house and they have lost their hope. They are full of anger…and if this continues we will face a generation of illiterates,” Zerrougui stressed.

Zerrougui urged that every effort should be made to ensure children have access to learning materials, adding, “Education is one of the most effective ways to build an inclusive and open society.”

Last month, Syria’s main rebel group, The Free Syria Army (FSA), was added to the U.N.’s List of Shame.

The list was part of a report issued by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which highlighted that Syrian children were being used by both sides as suicide bombers and human shields.

Introducing the report in June, Ban described the current situation of children in Syria as “unacceptable and unbearable” and called for “an end to detention and any form of ill-treatment, including torture, of children for alleged association with the opposition.”

The uprising, which began in March 2011, has resulted in the deaths of thousands of children. Zerrougi stressed that a political solution must be found soon for the sake of Syria’s future generation.

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