Few bakeries are operating in Syria these days, so tenacious civilians — supporters of the regime and the Revolution alike — must wait in line for their daily bread. This August, Syrian government forces began bombing those breadlines. Recent events in Deir al-Asafi, a village outside Damascus, illustrate an even more sinister targeting of children that has been under reported so far in the conflict.
Last Sunday, November 25, activist videos captured the aftermath of two suspected cluster bombs falling Deir al-Asafi. Families had taken refuge in the school there, and children came out to play during a few quiet hours. That’s when the bombs fell, killing at least ten children and wounding many in the school. Seventy more unexploded cluster “bomblets” have been found in Deir al-Asafi. The pictures of children holding or playing with unexploded ordinance are distressing reminders of the dangers Syrian children are facing every day.
Assad’s forces are not using cluster bombs in spite of their danger to civilians — they are using them because of it. For this regime, attacks on civilians, even children, are the weapon of choice to subdue a popular uprising.
Save the Children compiled report of face-to-face interviews with children who were tortured or witnessed torture in Syria. Children as young six reported being hung from their wrists, starved, beaten, shocked, and having their fingernails pulled out. Regime soldiers strap children to their tanks as they drove through opposition strongholds, literally using them as human shields, while parents are forced to watch. Nearly every child knows a friend or family member who has been arrested, tortured, or killed. Many children reported witnessing these atrocities.
15-year-old Khalid was held for ten days. “It’s ironic,” he says, “they took me [to the school] to torture me, in the same place I used to go to school to learn…They had taken over the school and made it into a torture centre.” Nor, who is nine, says simply, “There was nothing that they did not use to hurt us with.”
The violence of this revolution began with the humiliation, torture, and death of a thirteen-year-old child at the hands of the regime. Now, the children who remain, like 16-year-old Wael, speak chilling words about what they’ve experienced: “I have seen children slaughtered. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK again.” Wael watched 6-year-old Ala’a be tortured to death.
A Security Council resolution (2068) in September reiterated the Council’s commitment to the protection of children in armed conflict. However, even when confronted with the ongoing dire situation for children in Syria, the resolution took no action on Syria. The UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism has officially begun collecting accounts of violations against children to bring to the Security Council, but lacks the resources on the ground to thoroughly document every crime.
UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui reports that her team has “documented government attacks on schools, children denied access to hospitals, girls and boys suffering and dying in bombardments of their neighborhoods and also being subject to torture, including sexual violence.”
The children interviewed throughout the report reiterated the same two pleas: We want to know what will happen to us now. And we want the world to know what’s happening in Syria. UN monitors have documented the Syrian regime’s crimes against children. Save the Children’s report “Untold Atrocities” has shown us their faces and demands our action to help them heal and prevent further atrocities.
Christy Delafield is the Program Director for the Syrian Expatriates Organization. The Syrian Expatriates Organization is a leading nonprofit organization of Syrian-Americans and Syrian-Canadians that reflects the unique diversity, talents and ability of the Syrian nation. Its mission is to support the establishment of a free and democratic Syria.