Alarming Spike in Number of Syrian Refugee Children out of School, Exposing Thousands to Child Marriage and Exploitation
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (September 18, 2017)— More Syrian refugee children in the Middle East are now out of school compared to last year, with the most vulnerable and marginalized bearing the brunt of the crisis.
As children across the region go back to school this week, 43 percent of school-aged Syrian refugee children will be missing out. This number — which has risen by almost one third from late last year when 34 percent were out of school — means that around 730,000 Syrian refugee children are receiving no education, leaving them more vulnerable to child marriage and labor, Save the Children is warning.
Neighboring countries, where millions of refugees have been living for years, have made a string of commendable changes to increase access to education for refugee children. But while host governments and donors have made commitments to opening access in schools, this alone has not been enough.
Deep-seated barriers, such as reliance on child labor especially by parents who are restricted from working, fears of harassment for girls on the way to school, and a lack of affordable transportation, have hindered efforts and caused children to drop out or struggle to secure access.
"Education would offer these children a future and help to protect them. When children don’t go to school, they are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.
"Schools also provide a safe space to recover from the psychological distress that many who have fled extreme violence have experienced."
Due to enduring barriers in the last 12 months, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey missed more than 133 million days of school.
Globally, a new report by Save the Children found that almost 700 million days of school have been missed by 3.5 million registered refugee children. More than half of all refugee children globally are out of school.
The huge educational gap has persisted despite sweeping pledges made at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the UNGA last September, when donors and key host governments across the world said they would enroll one million refugee children.
Many of these promises were not new and renewed previous pledges, like those made at the Syria Conference in London in February 2016, but the true challenge has come from persisting barriers. Ultimately, many of the 300,000 places in education created for Syrian refugees in the region have not been filled.
"The world came together last year at the UN General Assembly and vowed to do more for refugee children and get every refugee child back to school within a few months of being displaced," said Miles.
"But action has been too slow. Governments need to tackle the many barriers that remain and which are stopping these children from returning to education and helping to rebuild their countries. The international community must step up this week and deliver on their promise to refugee children."
"If not, millions of refugee children across the world will continue to see their futures evaporate as they spend another year out of education. These children have had their future stolen twice; once when they fled the war and again when they are denied the right to learn."
Children living in conflict zones first lose out on school due to fighting in their home countries. In Syria, almost two million children are still believed to be out of school. Fighting in places like Raqqa, where more than 150,000 children have been displaced in recent months, has made it extremely difficult to rebuild and enroll students.
"What children who have lived through war and experienced extreme violence tell us time and again is that they are desperate to get back to school and start learning again," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Director.
"Our experiences in neighboring countries have shown that if we can get children back into the classroom and give them the support they need to stay in school, we can start to help children recover. But to do this we need to see a much deeper commitment to education and mental health support."
While enrollment in formal education for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has remained broadly steady, there have been serious cutbacks in informal education, a key stepping stone for marginalized communities and children who had been out of school for several years.
Save the Children and its partners have been doing region-wide drives in recent months to ensure children enroll at the start of this school year. However, for many refugees the challenge of translating commitments into reality could mean yet another year without education.
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