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Universal Children’s Day.. A Story of Youth Bereaved of its Childhood | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An Israeli soldier detains a Palestinian boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah August 28, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

New York- London-Aden- Conflicts and devastation across the Middle East had led to countless children losing their entitled childhood. Dozens of reports document the daily suffering of a child growing up in war zones, in some cases showing challenges that can barely be overcome by a fully grown adult being taken on by mere children. Starvation, war, displacement, armed recruitment and arrests all are tragedies highlighting a dashing number of Middle Eastern children’s day-to-day life.

No essay or report can hold a candle to the unfortunate events and heartbreaks faced by children born into swathes of warzones in the world.

Over 60 percent of Syria’s children have been deprived of their right to education—children in war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, and those surviving in areas under deadlock are dancing with death as starvation and disease spread with the continued lack and medical and food aid.

Neighboring Iraq is no less of a tragedy, with at least a million children facing the tough life in the swamps of makeshift camps. Hundreds of Palestinian kids are spending their childhoods behind Israeli prison bars.

And perhaps the most appalling abuse facing the youth of the Arab world, is the unwarranted recruitment of children in Yemen by coup militias, denying them the basic human rights and the promise of a better tomorrow.

The Universal Children’s Day, Nov.20, should serve as a reminder that the world must commit itself to the protection and fulfillment of children’s rights everywhere.

Highlighting the plight of millions of children around the world, the head of United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has called on everyone to recommit themselves to protect the rights of every child.

“When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future,” said the UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, in his message on Universal Children’s Day.

Established on 20 November 1954, U.N. Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

Nov.20 also marks the day in 1989 when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Further in his message, Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

Blood-Soaked Innocence, Suffering Facing Syria’s Children

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) report in June documented the killing of 19,773 children at the hands of regime forces since March 2011 including 297 children who were killed by snipers and 159 who died under torture.

The report notes that 10,891 have experienced detention at regime forces detention centers as there are 2,716 children who are still under arrest.

The report also points out that 37,000 children have lost their fathers at least while about 6,000 have lost their mothers.

Additionally, the report documents that 4,083 educational facilities have been damaged which resulted in no less than 2 million children losing access to an education in Syria. Furthermore, regime forces recruited hundreds of children in direct and indirect combative operations.

As for ISIS, the report says that ISIS hardliners have perpetrated war crimes that include indiscriminate bombing, extrajudicial killing, torture, physical violence, enforced conscription, and using schools as military centers. At least 351 children have been killed by ISIS since the terror organization emerged in April 2013, while 217 children are being arrested by ISIS.

The report also sheds light on the children who were born in refuge-granting countries and don’t have any of their necessary identification documents. The SNHR estimates that at least 148,000 children among refugees have no identification papers.

The report calls upon the international community to uphold its responsibilities to end the conflict in Syria, deliver proper aid to children in besieged areas, and force mainly the Syrian regime to end the siege. Also, the report urges the international community to further support neighboring countries in order to provide better healthcare and education.

Iraq’s Children Captive to Trenches of Displacement, Labor

Regional conflict has adversely affected the development and well-being of children, beginning in 2012 with the arrival of almost 250,000 Syrian refugees into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

This was followed by the eruption of conflict within Iraq in early 2014. Both events have thrown children’s lives into chaos, disrupted education for millions of children, and made them more vulnerable to deadly diseases such as polio and cholera.

As of mid-2016, 3.4 million Iraqis – almost 10% of the population – are now displaced, and millions more are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. This massive internal displacement, as well as conflict-related economic decline, have put enormous strain on the host communities and strained social systems.

Since 2014, UNICEF has verified 869 child deaths, and 834 child injuries in Iraq. The actual number is likely to be much higher. Nearly 1 million school-aged children are internally displaced, and 70 per cent of them have lost an entire year of school, placing them at increased risk of early marriage, child labor, and recruitment into armed groups.