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Syrian Children Are Starving to Death

Posted: 11/13/2013 12:10 pm

Human bodies aren't like machines that shut down immediately without fuel -- starvation kills slowly.

It's likely one-year-old Rana was malnourished the entire year she'd been alive, since aid hadn't reached the village in her lifetime. Doctors could do nothing by the time she was admitted to the field hospital in rebel-occupied Moadamia, just north of the Syrian capital of Damascus. She died within 24 hours of admittance.

Rana was born, and died, during the civil war that is slowly attacking Syria's children.

The people left in her ghost town of Moadamia are bargaining chips for the rebel Free Syrian Army, which refuses to relinquish control of the area long enough for humanitarian groups to distribute aid. Regime-backed snipers shoot hostages who try to leave. We know of the brief life of Rana from a report in the investigative news site Vice.

For families outside of rebel territory who can evade the scope of a rifle, the only choice is escape from Syria.

What started with a peaceful protest in 2011 has escalated into a full-blown civil war,100,000 casualties, 5.1-million displaced people, and two-million refugees -- including one-million children. An estimated 4,000 Syrians flee daily to neighbouring Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Meanwhile, rebels and President Bashar al Assad's supporters continue to fight over control of the country.

Even outside of its borders, Syria's war on its youngest citizens wages on. A generation of stateless children have had all manner of hell thrown at them.

Two-million Syrian students have been forced out of school since the last academic year. Schools become shelters, or worse, targets, and then they're destroyed. In Lebanon, where 400,000 school-aged children are stuck, class sizes are doubling, teachers are working a double-shift system, and even class waiting lists are closing. Refugee families decide which of their children should attend class; often the girls are left behind to do chores, watch young siblings, or because a trip to school is deemed too dangerous in a crowded, foreign country.

Parents who can't work legally in their host country send sons and daughters to sell trinkets in the street, or to work in an unregulated industry -- agriculture, construction, hospitality -- where sexual and physical abuse are common. The war is breeding child labourers.

In Jordan, the population of child labourers has "at least doubled" in the last 18 months, to 30,000; faster than non-profits or policy can respond, according to media reports. In Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now make up one quarter of the population, 70,000 refugee children are thought to be working. School, which would offer some respite from chaos, is a false hope for these young workers.

Now, the World Health Organization has confirmed 10 cases of polio in eastern Syria, the first outbreak in 14 years. Syria was the first Arab country to introduce mass immunization, but during wartime an estimated half million children have missed vaccines. The highly communicable disease attacks the nerves to cause paralysis and even death, and it craves a weak host. The United Nations' health agency acted within days to employ an immunization plan in Syria and neighbouring countries, but access to the vaccine remains a problem in rebel strongholds.

For these children of war every aspect of their life has been diminished, or stolen.

One promising hope for Syria is the generosity of its neighbours. Non-profits at camps in host countries deploy aid, water projects and school programs for refugee children. The Lebanese and Jordanian governments welcome Syrian students into their already strained public schools.

Canada, for its part, recently pledged $90 million in relief funds to humanitarian organizations on the ground, making Canada's total commitment to the crisis $203.5 million in development and security assistance. The federal government has also pledged $110 million to Jordan over three years, to alleviate strain on the host country. Canada will also accept 1,300 Syrian refugees by 2014 -- 200 government-assisted and 1,100 private sponsorships -- a sliver of the total refugee population.

International groups, including Amnesty International and UNICEF, have called on Canada and the rest of Syria's more distant neighbours to do more.

For now, it's sometimes the smallest gestures that offer hope amid despair.

A group of Kurdish students recently reached out to their peers at the Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq.

There, displaced children live in a makeshift slum marked by wooden posts and blue tarp. On the first day of class, Kurdish students from across the Iraqi border arrived with books, backpacks, uniforms and toiletries -- bought with the proceeds of bake sales and community fundraisers -- and distributed them to hopeful-looking Syrian refugees.

"We trust the strength of youth. This is the sign of looking ahead for a bright future in school, becoming good students and good citizens," a UNICEF representative in Iraq has said of the effort.

Children are helping children, even in places where childhood seems a lost cause.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are co-founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in 11 cities across North America this year, inspiring more than 160,000 attendees from over 4,000 schools. For more information, visit www.weday.com.

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  • Syrian refugee, Ahmed al Delly, 59, from Daraa in Syria, reacts as he speaks about his wife, four sons, and two daughters, who are still in Daraa but he has had no contact with them, after the prayer of Eid al-Fitr, that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • This image provided by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show mourners next to bodies of victims of an attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • Columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, in Cairo, Syria, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the Media Office Of Douma City, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man mourns over a dead body after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists, in Douma town, Damascus, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Media Office Of Douma City)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man reacts as he carries a dead body of a Syrian girl, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows dead bodies of Syrian citizens in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • A Syrian family sits in a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees stand in a queue to receive free food at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Arabic that reads, "Syria is fine," as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man receiving treatment, in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A general view of the Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid after cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man comforts a child injured by a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, buildings are seen damaged from the shelling of Syrian forces at Karm al-Jabal area in Aleppo province, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian rebels open fire as they battle against the Syrian forces in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian army soldier stands behind his machine gun during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian forces tank fires during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, video obtained from the Sham News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a rebel fighter fires a gun in a valley in an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria. (AP Photo/Sham News Network via AP video)

  • Mansour Mahameed, 26, from Daraa city in Syria, a former Free Syrian Army fighter who lost his leg last March after the Syrian troops bombing, prepares to sit for the Eid al-Fitr prayer that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, dead bodies of Syrian rebels are seen on the ground, killed during ambush by Syrian forces near the Damascus suburb of Adra, Syria, Wednesday Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with a soldier during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad walking with soldiers with during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian youths run away from the scene of a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

 

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