Spare a thought for war-zone kids

The Nation/ ANN

Thailand — Swathed in bandages on her head for injuries inflicted by a blast set off by a suicide bomber, the little Syrian girl smiled at the camera from the back of an ambulance in a powerful video clip that’s being shared online.

The footage, first released by the Syrian Arab News Agency, showed the little girl sitting in the back of an ambulance, her beige top covered in blood and a plaster covering her cheek. At first, she looked somewhat dazed and nervous. And yet she smiled as someone amused her with inflated surgical gloves.

Strange as it may sound, it was the kind of smile that puts all of us to shame, although that was not her intention. Amid death and destruction, the little girl managed to seek joy and happiness in a little thing like inflated surgical gloves meant to treat her wounds and scars. The girl was in a convoy that was evacuating Shiite civilians from a besieged Syrian town. The incident took place this past week just outside Aleppo. The attack resulted in the death of at least 126 people, including 88 children, reportedly caused by a bomber who lured children closer to the blast site with an offer of candies.

Like the recent gas attack earlier this month that killed 86 people, including many children in a Syrian town, neither side is claiming responsibility. However, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said “incontrovertible” test results showed that sarin gas or a chemical substance similar to the nerve agent was used in that event. Sarin attacks the body’s central nervous system and is banned under international law. Shocking footage of Syrian kids gasping for breath created a stir around the world. It got U.S. President Donald Trump to unleash a series of Tomahawk missiles on a regime airbase from where the plane carrying the gas had reportedly taken off.

The world must do more to protect the children who are caught up in Syria and other war-ravaged pockets around the world. In a recent interview with Reuters, Nobel Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi called on the United Nations to prioritize saving the millions of children caught up in violence. Satyarthi, who was jointly awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, said the video of the April 4 gas attack in Syria had prompted him to speak out. “I was always concerned — and have spoken about the refugee crisis, and in particular children living in conflict areas like Syria,” Satyarthi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But the recent chemical attack has shaken my conscience. What else could be more heinous? I thought it was important to raise one’s voice — and also suggest some form of action to better protect children in armed conflict areas, and child refugees.” According to UNICEF, one in nine children worldwide — about 250 million — live in countries affected by war. These countries include Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and Nigeria.

All these children lack proper medical care, schooling and nutrition and some are sold off into forced labour and brothels.

What’s worse, these conflicts are continuing unabated with no end in sight and with a devastating impact on the young. UNICEF says more than 3 million children are internally displaced in Syria, while two million more Syrian kids are refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and beyond. This editorial was published by The Nation on 22 April.