Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Children's Rights under Assault in Syria

Dumped in a cramped cell where corpses continued to be beaten and were left to decompose into maggots—this is the reality that 15 year old Moussa has been forced to live through. He was arrested by the police and imprisoned for 22 days; during that time, he witnessed children dying. He also recalls being imprisoned with hundreds of other children, some of them as young as nine or ten years old. Moussa was beaten up every day, and was tortured with electric shock as well. He was eventually thrown out of prison, and carried out on a blanket, unable to move. Moussa was stopped by a passerby who looked at his ID and then took him to his village. He managed to reunite with his family, who helped him go to the hospital. He still has scars on his back, chest, and feet, and continues to suffer back pain as well. Moussa is now at Za’atari refugee camp, located in Jordan.
Moussa’s appalling story shows just how senseless the political violence in Syria has become, and how there is no longer any regard for human life, even for children. Stories like that of Moussa are unfortunately all too common, which begs the question of why the people who are committing these crimes against ordinary Syrians, particularly against children, have not been held to account for their actions. Save the Children, a U.K. charity that helps children in Third World countries, has documented strong evidence of children being victimized by politically motivated violence in a 50 page report released on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, titled: “Untold Atrocities: The Stories of Syria’s Children.” It contains several interviews with Syrian refugees who describe witnessing various types of torture against children, and many cases of the interviewees experiencing systematic abuse themselves. All of the interviews in the report took place at Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. The report can be found at the following link:
Nabil, a father, also notes how the political crisis in Syria has left children deliberately exposed to violence. He recalls that in Saydeh, a Syrian village, children have been used as human shields. He remembers seeing children being strapped to tanks by their torsos, feet, and hands on two tanks that broke into the village. Nobody was able to stop the tanks or fight back because the children bound to the tanks would have gotten killed. Nabil also describes how his own children have been traumatized by the civil war—his 10 year old son Ala’a has started sleepwalking and crying all the time without giving a reason why. Nabil’s other child has started stuttering.
Nabil’s disturbing testimony illustrates that the political violence in Syria has stooped to new lows with the chilling and cowardly acts of abusing children for political interests. The use of children as human shields is a particularly horrendous crime, showing that nobody has been spared when it comes to the civil war in Syria. Nabil’s experiences in witnessing his own children become psychologically damaged because of the political crisis are alarming as well, and show that the violence in Syria is not only harming children physically, but emotionally as well. Given the current situation in Syria, the future outcomes of the emotional healing process for Nabil’s children look uncertain—if they heal at all.
Mohamad, aged 24, makes similar observations about children being tortured in Syria. He notes that in his own town, almost 200 children had been killed in a massacre—and it received no media coverage, generating no outrage. Mohamad had also been put in jail for three months and 20 days. While he was in prison, he had been tortured with electric shock. He had also witnessed children who were in the same jail as him being tortured with electric shock by the guards. Children had electricity applied on their genitals, backs, legs, and hands. The torture did not end there.
Mohamad remembers even more disturbing accounts of children being abused in prison, describing how the guards would also beat the children until they bled. Many children had died from the beatings. The guards would also tie the children’s hands together so tightly that the children would make pleas for their hands to be loosened. The guards would bind the children’s hands even tighter, causing the veins in their wrists to start bleeding. Many children had also died from this torture. The few children who were released were still injured from the abuse they faced in jail. The guards would also take children as young as 12 and leave them in isolation rooms, where it was dark and they were abandoned by themselves. Mohamad states that children have also been forced to become soldiers, as there are no longer enough men who can fight. Some children are forced to guard the borders with guns, while others are used as human shields for the armed men.
Mohamad’s observations raise several unsettling questions. First, the mainstream media’s failure to cover a massacre where almost 200 children were killed shows that it is complicit in continuing the oppression of Syrians, particularly Syrian children, by turning a blind eye to their suffering. The lack of media exposure of such a serious crime has prevented awareness from being raised about the political situation in Syria among the general public, hiding key information that would help provide a better understanding of what is happening in Syria. The fact that the lack of media coverage has led to no outrage is also sickening, creating a disturbing situation where people cannot speak out against the human rights abuses taking place in Syria because they are not being exposed to it through the mainstream media in the first place.
Second, Mohamad’s experiences in jail and his testimony of how he saw children abused while imprisoned also show that the violence committed against Syrian children is widespread and calculated. It reveals, once again, that Syrian children are not immune from politically motivated violence, and that nobody is safe from abuse. The acts of using children as human shields and soldiers also illustrate that children’s rights in Syria have been treated with blatant disregard. The use of child soldiers has not only destroyed a sense of well-being for the children who are involved—it will continue to perpetuate the cycle of political violence in Syria, creating further instability. These child soldiers will internalize the tactics of repression, creating an entire generation of children who will become desensitized into accepting violence as a way of life. As Syrian children continue to be manipulated for political interests, it is clear that the effects from being mistreated will last a long time, and a positive future remains an unlikely outcome.
Wael, 16 years old, echoes Nabil’s thoughts about the psychological toll that the political crisis in Syria has taken on himself and others. He recalled being arrested and being put in a small cell with hundreds of other prisoners, where there was no toilet, only a hole in the floor. He remembers a six year old boy named Ala’a who was arrested because his parents were considered a political threat. Ala’a’s father was threatened with his child’s death unless he surrendered. Ala’a was starved for three days and would faint constantly. He was beaten on a regular basis as well. Wael recounts watching him die after only three days. He also remembers children from his own village becoming mute because of observing constant violence. He notes that the civil war has caused him to lose faith in humanity, and his once optimistic personality has now dissolved. Wael is now suicidal because of the Syrian conflict.
Wael’s heartbreaking observations and experiences show how much psychological damage is being committed against Syrian children from such senseless and cruel political violence. The fact that his hopes for the future have been shattered by the Syrian civil war is quite telling of just how sadistic the violence in Syria is. The fact that Wael is now suicidal because of his experiences also shows that people are not only having their sense of safety threatened on a regular basis—their will to live is also being destroyed, as a direct result of the relentless violence. This psychological damage will create severe complications for the future of Wael and others affected like him, and the road to recovery will be long and difficult—if it takes place at all. Wael’s account of seeing children go mute as a direct result of being exposed to constant violence also confirm the negative psychological impact that the Syrian political crisis is having on civilians, particularly on children.
Save the Children is working diligently to help Syria’s children. To learn more about the situation in Syria on YouTube, please watch “Stop the Crimes Against Syria’s Children,” which can be found at the following link: To donate to Save the Children, please visit To help Save the Children force the UN to take action on the Syrian political crisis, please sign their petition at To raise awareness on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #savesyriaschildren. The world has remained silent on Syria’s political issues for far too long. Let’s help Syrians rebuild their futures, and force politicians to step up and finally do something about Syria.