Five years into the war in Syria, UNICEF has registered almost 1,500 cases of severe rights abuses against minors. According to the report, children are being deliberately killed or forced to work as soldiers.
The latest report from the UN children's relief agency does not make for easy reading. UNICEF describes how, after five years of war, children are being targeted by the warring parties. Included in the statistics are more than 150 cases of children who were killed or injured at school or while they were on their way to or from school.
"Snipers are directly targeting children, and there are bomb attacks on schools. But there's also the daily violence, where we're seeing more and more increasingly younger children being recruited by armed groups to fight in a war that these children have nothing to do with," Christian Schneider, the executive director of UNICEF Germany, told DW. According to the report, terror militias and rebel groups have forced children as young as seven to fight for them. Last year alone, at least 100 minors were killed or injured in armed battles, UNICEF says.
A lost generation?
Five years is a long time in the life of a child, Schneider said. "Five years of war in Syria means 3.7 million children that were born during the conflict - children who don't know anything else but fear and having to flee. The bombs and the shooting are a daily part of their lives."
Despite the situation, UNICEF's coordinator for emergency aid to Syria is determined not to give up. Geneviève Boutin told DW about her discussions with children who have fled the war. All of them dream about going back home one day, going to school and living with their families. UNICEF's task now is to protect these children living in Syria and neighboring countries, and to try to get them access to education.
At the London donors conference for Syria, there were promises to get programs up and running so that all Syrian children could go to school and receive medical and psychological help. Boutin says many children are seriously traumatized. That's why she said she was overwhelmed when, in London, UNICEF alone was given more than a billion euros for such programs in 2016.
Many donors aren't paying
But pledges need to be followed by payments, and that's when problems occur. To date, around 74 million euros ($82.6 million) have been transferred to UNICEF's account. "At the moment, we only have 6 percent of the money that we need and that was promised us for Syria and neighboring countries," the UNICEF coordinator said. "We are urgently hoping that the promises made by the donors will turn into real money."
Germany, Sweden and Australia are the only countries so far that are paying what they promised. The government in Berlin pledged a total of 265 million euros; 70 million euros of that amount has already gone to UNICEF, and the next installment has been approved.
German Development Minister Gerd Müller has absolutely no tolerance for empty promises. "If we don't help, people die. In the last two years, more than 100,000 babies were born in refugee camps. And there's something else to consider. If we don't help, people say if you won't help us here where we are, then we have to come to Germany and Europe and find a place to live there," the politician from Bavaria's CSU party told DW.
The majority of Syrians are very poor; they can't flee to Europe, nor do they want to. Around 86 percent of Syrian refugees are living in the poorest parts of Lebanon. Müller says the West will pay the price if it doesn't give more aid to Syria's neighboring countries, such as Lebanon. "Imagine what will happen if this country that has taken in 1.5 million refugees falls apart. Then we won't just have several hundred thousand refugees more, we'll also have a political conflagration in the region. We should not just sit back, awaiting disaster before taking action," Müller said.
UNICEF's executive director sees things similarly. If there's not enough money to take care of people where they are and to rebuild destroyed infrastructure, people will flee, Christian Schneider said. "When people have lost all hope of a better future, then they will come, and no one can stop them."
The UNICEF report is called "No place for children." But if such fears become reality, it would be more accurate to call it "No place for anyone."