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Invisible wounds

07 March 2017, Impact of Our Work, Voices from the Field

You can't always see the terrible effects of conflict.

“The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” – Teacher in the besieged town of Madaya

Razan* had seven siblings before the war, but she was inseparable from her younger sister, Aya*.

When Razan was three, her father was killed by a sniper bullet and the family had to flee their home due to continuous bombardment. A few days after moving, a missile fell on their new house and destroyed it. Razan was pulled from the rubble alive. Her mother and Aya were rushed to a field hospital, but sadly didn’t survive. In the hospital, Razan wouldn’t stop screaming after witnessing the deaths of her family.

Since then her behaviour has changed. At first she was violent, and lashed out at her elder sister who looked after her. Now, she hallucinates during the day and night, seeing things that don’t exist, and seems unable to distinguish between fact and reality. She says she just wants to be alone, in a room, with her toys. Razan is now seven years old.

For the past six years, children in Syria have been bombed and starved. They have seen their friends and families die before their eyes or buried under the rubble of their homes. They have watched their schools and hospitals destroyed, been denied food, medicine and vital aid, and been torn apart from their families and friends as they flee the fighting. Every year that the war goes on plumbs new, previously unimaginable, depths of violence against children, and violations of international law by all sides.

The longer the war is allowed to continue, the greater the long-term impact on children will be. Research conducted by Save the Children and our partners in Syria revealed that:
  • 84% of adults and almost all children said that ongoing bombing and shelling is the number one cause of psychological stress in children’s daily lives.
  • 80% said children and adolescents have become more aggressive.
  • 71% said that children increasingly suffer from frequent bedwetting and involuntary urination – both common symptoms of toxic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children.
  • Two-thirds of children are said to have lost a loved one, or had their house bombed or shelled, or suffered war-related injuries.
  • 51% said adolescents are turning to drugs to cope with the stress.
  • 48% of adults have seen children who have lost the ability to speak or who have developed speech impediments since the start of the war.
  • 50% of children who are still able to attend school said they never or rarely feel safe there.
Although the outlook seems bleak, it is not too late. As well as atrocities and suffering, the research found glimmers of hope.

Syria’s children are incredibly resilient. What came through clearly in the research is that despite all they are going through, many children still dream of a better future, of becoming doctors and teachers who can contribute to building a peaceful, prosperous Syria. All they want is the opportunity to do so.

That many children are still showing a range of emotions and have not yet become desensitised to the violence that surrounds them – and are still actively seeking out support from their family and social networks – suggests that we are not yet past the point of no return.

If the right support is provided now, the children of Syria may be able to recover.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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