No more broken promises: outrage without action is failing Syria’s children

Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Theirworld

Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh sits in an ambulance in Aleppo


I am tired. Tired of seeing images of children killed and horrifically injured, tired of seeing children starving, tired of hearing of maternity hospitals and schools being bombed, tired of seeing statistics on deaths, displacement and drowning continue to mount.

Tired of world leaders feeding us empty words over and over and over again while taking no stand against the heinous crimes and atrocities committed, even against the youngest and most vulnerable children, and consistently failing to provide the resources necessary to meet their vital education needs.

It is nearly a year to the day since I wrote a piece after the death of Aylan Kurdi caused international outrage. In it, I highlighted the plight of Syrians trying desperately to reach Europe after years of continued warfare in their own country with no end in sight, cuts to vital aid and the introduction of restrictive policies on registration and the ability to work were introduced in Syria’s neighbouring countries.

Only a month later, I wrote another blog motivated by the pleas of six-year-old Fareed Shawky that he wouldn’t be buried after having been severely injured by shrapnel in Yemen.

And yesterday, a top-trending story showed the, frankly, sob-inducing image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh being rescued from a building and sitting bewildered and covered in blood in an ambulance in Aleppo.

The time for shock, dismay and outrage followed by no action must be over. Those of us who see image after image and story after story of children suffering the dire consequences of neglect, violence, famine and displacement must demand action – not merely more words – from our leaders.



The international community, which has been eloquent on the language of human rights – adopting a sustainable development agenda promising to “leave no one behind” – must show ourselves to be more than the hypocrites we have been.

At a bare minimum, we must ensure that these children have safe places to welcome them when they flee from violence – safe places where they can receive psychosocial support to process through their trauma, where they can be protected from the vultures who would use their vulnerability to lure them into dangerous and exploitive situations through trafficking or recruitment into fighting, where they can continue their education and begin to look forward again to a future of possibilities and hope.

Time and time again – the Oslo Education Summit, the Supporting Syria and the Region Pledging Conference, the World Humanitarian Summit – world leaders have recognised the crucial lifeline that education can provide to children in emergency contexts. From providing lifesaving information on survival, to psychosocial support for traumatised children, to quality learning that can help them rebuild a future.

And yet, each time promises are made, they are far below actual needs and even those modest promises are not fully delivered.

In May, donors failed to meet the $150 million needed to set up the Education Cannot Wait Fund for education in emergencies in its first year – a fund to address the education needs of children trapped in conflict and emergency settings at an annual estimated cost of $8.5 billion.

In February, donors pledged to get all Syrian refugee and vulnerable host community children in school by the 2016-2017 school year as well as support education for the 2.1 million out-of-school children within Syria itself.


More than six months later, it is still unclear how much of the financing needed to achieve this goal has actually been released and the number of children out of school has increased to nearly one million.

A recent report by the children’s charity Theirworld and the Overseas Development Institute detailed what these broken promises mean for Syrian children in Lebanon and Turkey and their right to an education.

At the very least, the most vulnerable sufferers in conflict and emergency contexts must be met with safe, protective spaces and the ability to continue their education and build hope for the future.

However, if our response to grave violations of their rights, to images of their mangled bodies and statistics about child labour, trafficking, exploitation and recruitment of these children continue to elicit nothing more than an abundance of words, we will only continue to fail.

Let the upcoming United Nations General Assembly and accompanying Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis be marked by real action, released and transparent funding at the necessary scale and concrete policy change to protect these children and provide for their education.

In particular, the promises made at the Syria pledging conference must be delivered – and pledges to increase access to free, quality education for refugee children at the upcoming Refugee Summit must be additional and not duplicative of promises already made.

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