Friday will mark the eighth anniversary of the start of the Syrian war ― and its deadly toll on kids has only climbed in recent years, per the United Nations children’s agency.
In 2018 an estimated 1,106 children were killed amid the fighting ― the most since the war started, the group said Monday in a press release. The number of children killed has risen since UNICEF started counting in 2014, jumping from over 600 killed in 2016 to more than 900 dead in 2017.
The figures count children killed “by direct violence,” a UNICEF spokesperson told HuffPost, such as by airstrikes, bullets, bombs and land mines. That does not include deaths from “indirect consequence” of the war, including disease, malnutrition and weather exposure. Since the counts are based only on numbers the U.N. could verify, the toll is likely far higher, the group said.
There were more than 250 attacks on education and health facilities, a record high, according to the group. And more than 400 children were killed or injured last year from unexploded ordnance ― weapons such as bombs that didn’t detonate when deployed but pose a risk of later exploding.
This year nearly 60 children reportedly have died fleeing the fight against the Islamic State militant group in the area of Baghouz, trekking to a camp for displaced people nearly 200 miles away, the group said.
“Today there exists an alarming misconception that the conflict in Syria is drawing quickly to a close — it is not,” UNICEF’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said in the press release, adding that many children remain “in as much danger as at any other time during the eight-year conflict.”
UNICEF has been working in the region to provide education, health and other supports to kids, she said, adding, “But this is not enough.”
“We call once again upon all parties, anyone with influence over them ... to make peace happen,” UNICEF’s Middle East regional director, Geert Cappelaere, said at a press conference Monday. “Not tomorrow, now.”
President Donald Trump announced in December that the U.S. would pull troops out of Syria, declaring victory against the Islamic State in Syria via Twitter. The announcement sparked criticism from military and intelligence officials, as well as praise from some Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
With about 2,000 American troops in Syria, the U.S. military confirmed in January that the process of withdrawal has begun but did not provide details on numbers or timetables.
Last year, Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, carried out “direct attacks on civilians,” killing and injuring hundreds of people using aerial and artillery bombing, said human rights group Amnesty International in a report released last month. The group called out the government for maintaining “lengthy sieges” throughout its conflict against rebel groups and restricting access to humanitarian and medical aid to civilians.
The Syrian conflict has led to more than 5.6 million Syrians becoming refugees and over 6 million being displaced internally as of March 2018, according to the United Nations. More than 13 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, including nearly 6 million kids.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by claims of military victory,” Cappelaere said. “On behalf of Syrian children: The war urgently needs a peaceful settlement. We cannot continue justifying the daily loss of lives of innocent children.”