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4.12.1. Violence against children: overview

Last update: September 2020
*Minor updates added: February 2023

COI summary

In a report by the UN Human Rights Council covering the period from September 2011 to the end of October 2019, it was stated that ‘children’s right to life has been blatantly denied by all parties to the conflict', further noting that a very large number of children were killed, maimed and injured. Another report from June 2019 stated that throughout 2018 air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions have resulted in 1 854 child casualties. [Targeting 2020, 12, p. 92]

Sexual violence against children perpetrated by different parties to the conflict has been a persistent issue throughout the conflict. Government forces used child rape as a weapon of war and were systematically abusing the children of opposition figures in GoS prisons, at checkpoints and during house raids, with impunity [Situation of women, 2.4, p. 18]. Children were detained with adults and exposed to exploitation, torture, violence, including sexual violence perpetrated by prison guards, torturers and other prisoners [Actors, 2.2.6, p. 23, 2.4, p. 38].

The UNPFA report of November 2017 stated that female-headed households in particular are at increased risk of sexual violence. The risk was highlighted by Syrians interviewed in the case of girls from female-headed households. In addition, unaccompanied girls, orphans or those living with relatives and away from their parents are reportedly at risk of sexual violence. Syrian girls interviewed for the report noted particular risks of sexual violence while on their way to or from school, and these risks are said to be often the main reason for girls to either drop out or be pulled out of school by their parents. Other factors contributing to the risk of sexual exploitation include poverty, displacement, and gender inequalities. It is also stated that ‘[s]eparated and unaccompanied children, or those living in a female-headed household, are perceived to be at highest risk’. [Situation of Women, 1.2.1, pp. 30-31]

According to an International Labour Organization (ILO) study of 2012, children who worked outside of their homes and did not reside with their family became exposed to exploitation by gangs or to joining gangs, to smoking and drug abuse, and to health hazards stemming from handling dangerous equipment. Spending most of their day outside their home many working children returned home alone after dark, exposing them to harassment such as sexual harassment. A source also stated that ISIL was conducting kidnappings partly from orphanages, schools and family homes. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, 12.2, pp. 93-94]

Other examples of violence against children include the internment of thousands of wives and children of ISIL fighters in makeshift camps under deplorable living conditions in areas under SDF control [Targeting 2020, 3.2, p. 42; Actors, 3.3, p. 48]. There were also reports of abductions of women and girls by different actors and motivated by various reasons, including organ trafficking, with children being especially affected [Situation of women, 1.1.3, p. 21].

According to researchers, domestic violence was common in Syria even before the civil war and not criminalised in Syrian’s legislation. The changes in the traditional ways of family life and gender roles might have resulted in further violence against women and children, without effective legal protection mechanisms. A lack of services to support survivors of domestic violence is also reported. [Situation of women, 1.1.3, pp. 22-23]

Generally, effective protection against violence is limited and enforcement is either weak or non-existent (see profile of women, in particular under subsection 4.11.2. Violence against women and girls: overview).

Risk analysis

Acts reported to be committed against children are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (sexual assault, abduction, torture, killing).

The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: family members perceived to be involved with the opposition or anti-government armed groups (see 4.1. Persons perceived to be opposing the government), socio-economic situation (e.g. residing in IDP camps), family status, area of origin or residence, lack of documentation, religion, etc. Children without a male relative who is willing and able to provide support, would particularly be at risk.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion (e.g. in case of perceived link to an anti-government armed group), religion (e.g. when persecution is by extremist groups), and/or membership of a particular social group (see examples below).

See other topics concerning children: