Whether or not you try to ignore it, the six-year-old Syrian Civil War is the shame of our generation.
All people who, like me, are educated, are fortunate enough to live in peace and have access to information in real time, and are parents to tomorrow's generation, have a moral obligation to concern themselves with what is happening in Syria.
Forget geopolitics that make it all too easy to declare ourselves powerless. Think instead of the Syrian children and teens, of the millions of internally displaced persons and millions of refugee children whose journeys have been much too perilous. We all have a role to play in ensuring a better future for vulnerable children in Syria and in the neighbouring countries that have so generously opened their doors to nearly five million Syrians.
Indifference is not an option, because unless they forced to do so, children do not wage war. They do not bear arms and kill. All children want is to play, to learn and to grow. But to do so, they need to feel safe.
Tragically, the reality in Syria is the exact opposite. Children are constantly targeted; they are attacked. Their houses are hit, their schools destroyed and their playgrounds bloodied.
Hospitals are bombed so often they scarcely have anything to treat injured children. Doctors, lacking medical supplies, can only save those with the best chance of survival.
The year 2016 was the worst for Syrian children. UNICEF recorded 652 child deaths due to acts of war and 851 children recruited for combat by warring factions. And beyond numbers and statistics, there are the psychological traumas, the nightmares and the despair.
Imagine if you were in Syria, and those were your children. What would you do? In and around Syria, thousands of children are forced to go to work instead of school, and far too many young girls are married off despite their tender age. Like us, their parents are thinking of their children's future, but with so few solutions and choices to survive their poverty and deprivation, they are forced to make these drastic decisions.
My own daughter and son were five and seven respectively when this terrible war broke out. I cannot imagine them growing up assailed daily by fear, hunger and cold. I can much less imagine marrying off my 11-year-old daughter because it is her only chance for a future.
What strikes me even more, when I travel in the area and meet these children's parents, is the pride they feel when they introduce their daughter or son who still has the opportunity to go to school. I have nothing but admiration for them and all their efforts and sacrifices, because these are the children who will be able to help rebuild Syria when the fighting stops.
When people ask me what UNICEF wants, my answer is this: more money to give the children impacted by war the help they need. Moreover, we need free access for our teams on the ground and we need those at war to give them safe passage so they can reach children whose lives are in danger.
But here is my own personal request for everyone of my generation: try, just for one moment, to put yourself in the place of a Syrian child, and use all of the fear, injustice and hunger that conjures to act. We must demand that parties involved in the Syrian conflict and their supporters cease all attacks against schools, health centres and water infrastructures, and we must ask anyone with any influence in this war to commit immediately to protecting Syrian children rather than attacking them.
The children in Syria must not be forgotten.
Geneviève Boutin is Humanitarian Affairs Chief for UNICEF Middle East and North Africa. She is Canadian and based in Jordan.
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