Middle East

Syria crisis: Number of children in need doubles to 5.5 million

Young Palestinian refugees, who fled the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, peer through holes made in their tent as they prepare to move to new houses built by the United Nations Development Programme at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh, near the southern Lebanese coastal city of Sidon Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many Syrian children have been left without protection, medical care or psychological support

The number of Syrian children in need has more than doubled in the past year to 5.5 million, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) says.

Up to a million are living under siege and in areas that the agency and other humanitarian organisations cannot access, according to a new report.

Children in Syria have lost "lives and limbs, along with virtually every aspect of their childhood", it warns.

UN figures say more than 10,000 have been killed in three years of conflict.

However, the report notes that real number is probably higher.

Funding shortfall

The statistics presented in Unicef's report, Under Siege - the devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria, are daunting.

Up to a million children live in areas which are either under siege or very hard for relief agencies to reach, while around three million have had their education completely disrupted.

More than three million been displaced inside Syria - a threefold increase in the space of a year - and 1.2 million - more than half the total number - have become refugees abroad, up from 260,000. Some 425,000 refugees are under five.

In addition, many children have had to start working early and very young girls have been forced to marry for financial reasons. Boys as young as 12 have been recruited to support the fighting.

Around two million children are said to need counselling for trauma.

The Unicef report warns the situation is likely to get worse.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Concerns about the loss of childhood take second place to the need to survive
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Unicef has made "child-friendly spaces" in refugee camps to minimise disruption to children's lives

"Cut off from aid, living in rubble and struggling to find food, many Syrian children have been left without protection, medical care or psychological support, and have little or no access to education," it says.

"In the very worst cases children and pregnant women have been deliberately wounded or killed by snipers."

Unicef says it has only been able to raise 8% of the funding it says it needs to do its job properly.

"This war has to end so that children can return to their homes to rebuild their lives in safety with their family and friends. This third devastating year for Syrian children must be the last," said Unicef's executive director, Anthony Lake.