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In early July, the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict released the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. The report, which covers January to December 2013, found that children were recruited and used, killed and maimed, victims of sexual violence and other grave violations in 23 conflict situations around the world last year.

The report reveals that Syria remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child. CVT knows this to be true because of our work with Syrian refugees at our healing project in Jordan. A sizeable number of survivors we provide care to are children who have been witnesses as well as targets of various, severe human rights violations, including torture.

What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity. If we are serious about protecting children, we must demand accountability.

UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui

Here are some of the report’s key findings on Syria:

  • “Adults and children released from detention reported that children were still present in detention facilities and suffered treatment tantamount to torture.”
  • “Armed groups also continued to kill and maim children, including through the use of terror tactics and during ground operations throughout the Syrian Arab Republic.”
  • “While sexual violence against boys and girls in Government-controlled detention facilities has been documented previously, an increasing number of women and girls reported to the United Nations that they were subject to repeated sexual harassment at Government checkpoints.” In fact, the report states, “The general fear of sexual violence by parties to the conflict continued to be stated as a reason for which Syrian families flee the country.”

Based on our experience, we know the impact of torture and war on children can lead to unique psychological and emotional pain that can have long-term impacts on their development and well-being. A March 2014 report from UNICEF, Under Siege: The devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria, says, “Unremitting anxiety and exposure to violence has undermined their normal social development. In some cases, their psychological growth has stopped or even been reversed.”

In this particular conflict, children’s recovery is hampered by the reality that many have lost one or both parents and the remaining parent or guardian is usually also extremely traumatized and, therefore, often unable to care for the emotional needs of the children.

To address these children’s psychological distress, it is imperative for the international community, including the United States, to increase investments in programs to assist them through counseling and psychosocial support.