UNICEF: 2 million children in Syria still out of schools

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Even though Syria’s civil war is winding down, 2 million of the country’s children are still out of schools and it will likely take years and a lot of funding to help overcome the scars of the seven-year conflict, the head of the U.N. children’s agency said Thursday.

UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the agency has a shortfall of $95 million this year and has appealed for funds. She expects the agency’s needs to swell even more only in 2019 as more refugees return to Syria and internally displaced people move back to their homes.

Speaking to The Associated Press in Beirut after returning from a visit to Syria, she said schools that have not been destroyed by war are packed with students although some of them lack electricity or even doors and windows. Fore spent five days touring areas recaptured earlier this year by government forces from insurgents including the Damascus eastern suburb of Douma, the southern province of Daraa and areas in the central provinces of Homs and Hama.

Speaking about Douma, Fore said that for families that have returned to the suburb “it is very difficult. I mean they are looking for water, they’re looking for food. This is winter time in Syria, its cold but with just a little of plastic sheeting you cannot close in these apartments that are amid the rubble.”

“The living conditions are extremely difficult,” Fore said. “The destruction is widespread. The donor community has been generous but we need to stay the course. The needs are enormous.” Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011 has impacted children heavily, many of whom have been killed or wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, released a death toll for the conflict this week saying that among the half a million people killed over the past seven years, 20,819 were children or teenagers. The war has also wounded more than a million persons, including children who lost their limbs as a result of bombardment or touching unexploded ordnance. Fore said UNICEF and its partners are working on psychosocial support for the children who’ve been through too much violence and mine awareness program is one of the most important required now. She added that some three million children are trying to learn about unexploded ordnances. “Many times they can look pretty and they are on the ground,” Fore said about unexploded ordnance, adding that “they’re everywhere in many places and as a result you need to keep children away from this so that they don’t lose hands, fingers and legs.”

She added that children need psychosocial support because “there’s been a lot of scarring form the violence. You see scars on the outside of the child but there are also scars on the inside they have seen far too much violence, far too much death and it is really going to affect them.”

UNICEF said that for children who have missed years of learning due to the war, first-grade students can vary in age from six to 17 years of age. Many students are dropping out of school, with the drop-out rate across Syria is at 29 per cent, the agency said.q

Associated Press