“The Syrian government has obstructed the work of humanitarian agencies and organizations providing impartial aid. The Syrian government has also failed to ensure the protection of children with disabilities, access to their basic rights and services that meet their needs, such as health care, assistive devices, and education,” the NGO said.
HRW interviewed 30 people – 6 of them were children, 2 were 18-year-olds (one man and one woman), and the remaining 28 people were the children’s parents and relatives. The respondents were children or relatives of children with various learning, physical, developmental, intellectual, sensory, expressive or receptive language disorders, or autism. Many of the children mentioned were born shortly before the start of the conflict in 2011 or during the war.
Risk during attacks
“Many times I refused to leave the house to try to escape; it was just too hard for me to run on crutches. It would take several people to help me into the car, making them an easy target. I wanted other people not to experience this risk,” said Thara J., an 18-year-old girl who lost her leg in an airstrike.
According to HRW, people with disabilities have less chance of escape during any military conflict, especially if there is no advance warning or access to assistance. They can be left behind: their families sometimes make the decision to run away with others who can easily escape.
Such global trends are especially relevant when it comes to Syria, a country where up to 28 percent of population with disabilities. in 2021 A needs assessment conducted in Syria showed that 19 percent of Syrian children between the ages of 2 and 17 have a disability, and in the next 2022 March. the published assessment found that 21 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 4 in northeastern Syria have a disability. More than 1.5 million residents are believed to have become disabled as a result of the war.
Children with hearing, developmental, or intellectual disabilities may not hear, know, or understand what is happening during a seizure. “My wife and I keep an eye on her, and if we hear an attack, we have to physically go and grab her to bring her to the hideout,” is how Ahmed, a father of six, including a deaf daughter, described the horrors of war.
“The impact blocked the balcony of our house, and he didn’t understand what was happening. We had to grab him by the arm and pull him out to ensure his safety. He didn’t know what was going on,” said Fatima J., mother of an 11-year-old boy with intellectual disabilities.
According to HRW, the interviews revealed that the lack of assistive devices such as wheelchairs, prostheses or hearing aids made it difficult for disabled children to escape the hostilities.
Consequences of poverty and limited access to services
According to HRW, the families interviewed found it extremely difficult to provide their children with essential goods, including food, health care, adequate housing, assistive devices, medicine, therapy, diapers and transportation fees to get them to school and some service centers. Households in Syria with more than one disabled member, 9 percent. less than other households will be able to meet their basic needs. 60 percent households where a person with a disability lives lack food, compared to 51 percent. households without family members with disabilities.
Only two of the parents interviewed by HRW had a secure source of income. Adults with disabilities and parents and guardians of children with disabilities reported difficulties in finding work.
“Until 2011 i had a reliable government job and also had my own agri supply store as i have a bachelors degree in agricultural engineering. I had enough income for my family and we lived peacefully without fear. Everything changed when the war started, I lost my job and my house. My daughter has a disability, I can’t even afford to buy hearing aids,” Ahmed, a father of six, described his financial situation.
Lack of access to education
Children with disabilities are less likely to attend school than other children: 50 percent. of children with reported health problems, injuries or disabilities reported attending school, compared to 84% other children.
According to HRW, the main reasons why children with disabilities are excluded from education in Syria are: economic constraints, limited educational institutions capable of providing inclusive education, insufficient investment in learning tools, inclusive curricula and social stigma, as well as lack of accessibility in schools, assistive devices and trained teachers. Early childhood education centers are also limited.
Merwa, who has two hearing-impaired daughters, said schools in Afrin refused to admit her daughters. “The school I tried to enroll my children in was public,” she said. “Teachers told me they couldn’t teach my daughters because they didn’t have specialists.”
Four parents interviewed for this report did not try to enroll their child with a disability in a public school because they believed the child would not be included because of his or her disability, or because they believed the school would not support the child with a disability if he or she were bullied or injured.
Challenges facing humanitarian agencies
Authorities implemented a legal and policy framework in government-controlled areas that allowed them to cooperate with aid, restricting humanitarian access to communities in need, selectively approving aid projects and requiring cooperation with vetted security measures, HRW said.
Without access restrictions and aid interventions by the Syrian authorities, current humanitarian funding is insufficient to meet Syria’s humanitarian needs. Although the United States, the European Union and its member states committed to provide 6.7 billion USD ($4.3 billion in 2022 and $2.4 billion in 2023), representing less than 50 percent of the 2022 total. necessary funding.
According to Action for Humanity, Syria Relief’s lead charity, reduced donations – in this case from the UK government – could put 100,000 children, including disabled children, out of school. The charity warned that this could lead to an increase in child labour, child marriage, early pregnancy, child recruitment into military and armed groups, child exploitation and child trafficking. Funding gaps will prevent thousands of children from receiving the psychosocial support they need.
The Covid-19 pandemic also had a negative impact on the work of humanitarian organizations. Humanitarian organizations working in northwestern Syria interviewed by HRW confirmed that they had to suspend several programs due to lack of funds or due to precautionary measures to prevent Covid-19 infections.
Hand in Hand, a humanitarian organization based in northwest Syria, said it initially had three rehabilitation centers in Aleppo governorate that provided peer support services, psychosocial support, resilience-building activities for children and educational programs for children with disabilities. Due to the lack of funds and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Afrin center had to be closed, which provided services to 354 children for 6 months and was the only organization in the region offering speech therapy.
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