Vatican City, 27 March 2015 (VIS) – Respect for children, victims of war, was the subject of Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva Archbishop Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi’s, speech given at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council held 17 March of this year.
“The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” the archbishop stated, “recently reported that, since the start of the crisis, ‘more than 10 million Syrians have fled their homes. This amounts to almost half of the country’s population, now deprived of their basic rights’ … A variety of sources have provided evidence on how children suffer the brutal consequences of a persistent status of war in their country. Children are recruited, trained, and used in active combat roles, at times even as human shields in military attacks. The so-called Islamic State (ISIL) group has worsened the situation by training and using children as suicide bombers; killing children who belong to different religious and ethnic communities; selling children as slaves in markets; executing large numbers of boys; and committing other atrocities.”
“In camps throughout the Middle East, children constitute approximately half of the refugee population and they are the most vulnerable demographic group in times of conflict and displacement. … Beyond the specific conditions faced by internally displaced children and those in the refugee camps of the region and beyond the enormous tragedies affecting them, it seems important to envision their future, by focusing on three particular areas of concern.”
“First,” he asserted, “the world must deal with the situation of millions of stateless children, who as such according to the law, were never born. The United Nations estimates that approximately 30,000 of these children can be found in Lebanon alone. Moreover, due to the Middle Eastern conflicts and massive uprooting of families, several thousand unregistered children are scattered in camps and other asylum countries. … Stateless children cross international borders alone and find themselves completely abandoned. … While all face grave difficulties, those fleeing Syria face challenges that are even more dramatic: a child below eleven years of age and without documents has no access even to the most basic services. These children obviously cannot go to school and they are likely to be adopted illegally, recruited in an armed group, abused, exploited, or forced into prostitution. Every child has the right to be registered at birth and thus to be recognized as a person before the law. The implementation of this right opens the way for access to the enjoyment of other rights and benefits that affect the future of these children. Simplifying mechanisms and requirements for registration, waving fees, and advocating for refugee inclusive registration legislation, represent steps to solve the plight of stateless children.”
“Second, another key component that shapes the future of uprooted children is education. Both in Syria and in refugee camps in the region, provision of education has become extremely problematic. Some 5,000 schools have been destroyed in Syria where more than one million and half students no longer receive an education and where attacks against school buildings continue. … The international community as a whole seems to have misjudged the extent of the Syrian crisis. It was thought by many that the Syrian refugee flow was temporary and such refugees would leave their countries of asylum in a matter of months. Now, after four years of conflict, it appears likely that these refugees will remain and the locals have to learn to live side by side with them. … In the camps, there are only 40 teachers for more than 1,000 students, aged 6 to 17. … For different reasons, whether in their home countries or in the refugee camps, children find an inadequate education system that jeopardizes their future. Everywhere there is an urgent need for an education system that could absorb these children and bring some normalcy to their lives.”
“Third, another disruptive consequence of the continuing violence that torments the Middle East is the separation of family members, which forces many minors to fend for themselves. … To prevent the further exploitation of children and to protect them properly, an additional effort should be made to facilitate the reunification of minors with their respective families.”
“The right to a legal identity, to an adequate education, and to a family,” the archbishop concluded, “are key elements and specific requirements in a comprehensive system of protection for children. Such measures require the close collaboration of all stakeholders. Access to quality education and psycho-social care, together with other basic services, is extremely important. However, children cannot benefit from such services unless they are registered at birth and their families and communities are supported to protect them better. If the violence does not stop and the normal pace of education and development is not resumed, these children are at risk of becoming a lost generation.”