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Bara’a, 10, originally from Ghouta, Syria, leaves for school from her informal refugee camp in Mount Lebanon.

The Children of Syria

Young Lives Damaged by War

Bara’a, 10, originally from Ghouta, Syria, leaves for school from her informal refugee camp in Mount Lebanon.  Bassam Khawaja / © 2016 Human Rights Watch

The war in Syria has been taking its toll on children for nine years – their lives forever marked by the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of children are now fighting to reclaim their futures. Over the years, Human Rights Watch has heard just some of their stories:

When 15 boys were detained in Syria for scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls in Deraa, a city in Southwest Syria, news of their arrest sparked protests. The protesters called not only for the release of the boys, but for greater political freedom, and railed against government corruption.

When they were finally released, bruised and bloodied and talking about the torture they suffered, the boys’ stories helped fuel protests that were rapidly spreading across Syria.

Those boys, aged 10 to 15, were arrested in March 2011 and the protests for their release grew into the demonstrations and brutal repression that sparked the bloody civil war in Syria

Now, children are still paying the price of war. In the northwestern province of Idlib alone, nearly 600,000 children have been forcibly displaced since December 2019 by the latest Syrian-Russian joint military offensive in the province.

The United Nations reported that more than 1,700 civilians have been killed in northwestern Syria since last year, including more than 500 children, the vast majority by government forces.  

Thousands of children are fleeing to displacement camps every day. For many, it is the fifth or sixth time they have been forced from their homes, as they fled to Idlib from elsewhere in Syria. Now, pressed up against the Turkish border, there is nowhere safe for them to go.

Turkey has closed its border to those seeking safety, and in the displacement camps, humanitarian aid is utterly insufficient.

Unnecessary and sometimes cruel bureaucracy in government-controlled Syria and countries where people seek safety stops hundreds of thousands of Syrian children from getting an education. Desperate parents sometimes even find themselves resorting to child marriage to try to ensure a future for their daughters.

Read about Syria’s children:


Fatimah, 17, talking about the death of her brother, Mohammed, 10


Ahmad al-Musalmani, 14

Unknown Fates

Ibrahim, 15

Child Labor

Yousef, 11, and Nizar, 10

Bullied and Abused

Ghaith, 12, and Rawan, 11


  • There are more than 2.5 million Syrian children registered as refugees in neighboring countries. About 900,000 of them are not in formal education.
  • Inside Syria, 2.6 million children have been forcibly displaced. About two million children are out of school. Three out of 10 schools in Syria are destroyed or unusable.
  • Four out of five people in Syria live below the poverty line, leading to recruitment into fighting, child labor, and child marriage.

What should be done

Protect People from Attacks and Displacement:

  • People fleeing for their lives from Idlib and Western Aleppo should be allowed safe haven in Turkey, and the international community should fully support Turkey in hosting these refugees, in addition to the nearly 4 million refugees already living there.
  • Schools and other civilian areas and buildings should be off limits from attack. The Syrian-Russian military alliance should immediately stop both indiscriminate attacks when they don’t know what will be hit and targeted attacks on civilian buildings.
  • Concerned countries should call out Russia’s involvement in Syria’s war crimes and tell the Kremlin to end its support of Syria’s repression.

End Detentions and Disappearances

  • Release everyone who has been arbitrarily detained, including people put in prison for their political beliefs;
  • Grant international groups access to detention facilities, official and unofficial, without prior warning;
  • Tell families what happened to their loved ones. If someone died in custody, their families should be given the chance to hold a proper burial.

Give Refugee Children a Future

  • Host countries and international donors should ensure all children who survive these horrors and make it out of Syria, including children with disabilities, get a quality education, free from violence, and a chance to rebuild their lives.

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