When adults go to war, it is the children who suffer the most. The toll that six years of war has taken on the children of Syria has been documented in a new report by the charity Save the Children. It makes for harrowing reading. So many have lost family members fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers or have lost limbs and their ability to go to school or to seek a normal education. All have lost their innocence.
The report details the enormous mental anguish in which these children live. A vast increase in self-harm, suicide attempts and bedwetting points to an epidemic of what the group calls "toxic stress". An entire generation is growing up with severe mental trauma, and Save the Children point out that, without immediate help, the damage could be irreversible.
The consequences for Syrias future are hard to contemplate. An entire generation with mental health issues will mean that when the war ends and it is not even clear how such a thing would come to pass it will be difficult for the country to rebuild. Traumatised children grow up to face all sorts of difficulties as adults; they can be more aggressive and have difficulty dealing with relationships and jobs. A real possibility is that a new cycle of violence is created.
Already there are support programmes in place in some parts of the country, but the charity is calling for more help in scaling them up. That is certainly an urgent need. But beyond that, the war itself is the problem. The report was based on interviews with children in around seven Syrian governorates. But given the scale of the refugee crisis, this is only part of the problem. More than two million children have fled Syria. They live in precarious, dangerous circumstances in refugee camps or in Middle Eastern and European cities. Some are unaccompanied, increasing their stress and exposing them to serious dangers. Without an end to the war, these children will have no hope of returning to anything like a normal life.
The war in Syria remains the worlds worst humanitarian crisis. Without an end, the consequences of it will continue for decades, even generations. The sins of the adults must not be visited on the children of Syria.
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