Children's education becomes a casualty of war, report finds
Eleven-year-old Karim can barely lift the axe, but he's putting his family first. "I can't go to school as my family needs to eat, so I work with my father and my brother instead," says Karim, who lives in a camp in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
In nearby Lebanon, in a makeshift camp in the agricultural hinterland of the Bekaa Valley, another boy chops wood under the watchful eye of his grandmother. In harvest season, many boys and girls in the camp work at farms for as little as HK$15 a day, says Abu Mohammed, the camp warden.
Only 70 of about 300 children here go to nearby tent schools run by Beyond Association, a humanitarian agency based in Beirut, Lebanon.
Karim, from Hama, and the Bekaa Valley's kids are among about 2.8 million Syrian children who are out of school. Years of conflict, bias and displacement have scarred their childhood.
Enrolment rates in Syria have fallen to an average of half of what they were before the war, when nearly all Syrian children went to school, according to a new report by Save the Children.
In areas such as Aleppo, which have been devastated by nearly three years of war, enrolment is down to 6 per cent, and nearly a half-million refugee children are out of school. In Lebanon, which hosts the most refugees, four of five children do not have access to school.
At least a quarter of schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed, occupied by displaced families or used for military purposes, according to the report, which estimates that it would cost more than HK$23 billion to repair Syria's devastated education sector.
Experts and human rights officials have warned of a "lost generation" of uneducated children in Syria, some of whom have been out of school since shortly after the beginning of the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Now the Save the Children report has put a price tag on the lost generation's tribulations: Syria's post-war economy could lose up to HK$17.3 billion a year, or up to 5.4 per cent of the GDP, due to loss of future earnings caused by lack of schooling.
The real costs are likely to be higher, since children who do not receive an education are likely to rely to a greater extent on government assistance and to have higher incidence of problems, including death.
Save the Children estimates that Syrian children who did not complete primary school are likely to earn 32 per cent less money in their first job than those who completed secondary school, and 56 per cent less than those who finished university.
The report says providing the children with schooling during war helps them avoid child labour, early marriage and recruitment by armed groups, and can contribute to their mental resilience. The charity urges the global community to provide HK$1.7 billion in funds that had been earmarked by international organisations for education in Syria.