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Fears over a ‘Lost Generation’ as Syrian Children are Forced to Work | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Children carry a cylinder of water in a street of the Syrian city of Aleppo on April 17, 2014. (AFP)

Damascus – A women in her 40s was shocked when she was offered a cigarette by a 12-year-old Syrian child in an effort to calm her down after she got into an argument with a mechanic over her car. The child, who was working in a nearby garage in Damascus’ al-Fakhama neighborhood, intervened after he saw how agitated she had become. He approached her, invited her to take a seat, and offered her cigarette, telling her “not to worry.”

Shocked by his actions that are beyond his years, the woman soon forgot about her car troubles and quickly calmed down before the cigarette-puffing child, who had lost his parents in the war and was working to support his sisters.

“He appeared older than me due to the burden he is carrying,” she recalled.

Official figures indicate that the number of homeless children is growing year after year due to the ongoing war. Around 40 percent of the children, who have not sat for an official exam, are being exploited for labor. This figure was at 18 percent in 2012, a year after the conflict began to unravel.

Syrian labor law prohibits children under the age of 15 from working, but certain conditions allow children between the ages of 15 and 18 to work. They are also barred from taking on dangerous professions, such as masonry and sculpting. Hundreds of children however from the ages of six to 15 have found themselves in the workforce due to the war, loss of a guardian and the hike in prices.

On the streets, dozens of homeless children make a living through begging or stealing, revealed judicial sources. They said that child street gangs are also beginning to emerge.

Furthermore, dozens of children were born during the war and their parents have not been able to register them at official circles. Others however are registered as having a missing father, who may have been kidnapped or may be a member of the opposition. The mother would not dare to reveal the identity of the father for fear of his arrest.

A growing number of children have found homes on the streets, public squares and gardens.

Nazeer, a local who lives near the al-Zahira garden, said that for five years, he has grown accustomed to seeing children sleeping in the garden. Some of them have a family, but the majority do not.

A 14-year-old girl, who earns a living through begging, caught his attention because she was supporting four younger siblings. She has grown up before his eyes over the years and he describes her as a having a “dirty mouth” and exhibiting a fierceness that rivals that of the boys.

The United Nations child agency, UNICEF, has provided relief aid to nine million Syrian children, six million of whom are living in Syria. A number of charities and NGOs have meanwhile carried out awareness campaigns over the state of homeless children. July 1 has been chosen as an annual date to carry out such campaigns that witness various entertainment activities throughout Syria,

Children are the segment that has been the most affected by the war in Syria. Over 23,000 children have been killed in the six years of the unrest, while 2.5 million are not receiving any formal education, making them the most vulnerable to all sorts of violations.