Syria war keeping half nation's kids out of school

A Syrian refugee boy poses with his newborn brother as their mother lies near them in a house in the Basaksehir district of Istanbul, Turkey, March 4, 2014. Getty

GENEVA -- More than half of Syria's school-age children - 2.8 million and counting - cannot get an education because of the devastation and violence from a civil war now entering its fourth year, the U.N. children's agency said Tuesday.

Most of those - 2.3 million of Syria's nearly 5 million children who should be in classes - remain within Syria's borders, as education and health services collapse and classrooms are bombed or used as shelters and military barracks, UNICEF said in a new report that shows the tragically expanding effects of a conflict on the region's youngest victims.

Agency officials told reporters in Geneva that another 300,000 Syrian children are out of school in Lebanon, along with some 93,000 in Jordan, 78,000 in Turkey, 26,000 in Iraq and 4,000 in Egypt.

"When one says that it is the worst place to be as a child, in Syria, for now, I would agree," said Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF's deputy representative in Syria's capital Damascus. "Children are missing from education, they are out of school. Children have the hidden wounds, and these wounds form scars."

UNICEF estimates 2 million children affected by the fighting are in need of psychological support or treatment. Thousands have lost limbs, parents, teachers, schools, homes and virtually every aspect of their childhood, according to agency officials. And those are the ones lucky enough to be alive.

More than 10,000 children have been killed in the violence, the agency said, and 1.2 million are now refugees living in camps and overwhelmed neighboring communities where clean water, food and other basic items are scarce.

Overall, the number of children suffering from the civil war has more than doubled to 5.5 million in the past 12 months alone, UNICEF said. Many are forced to grow up fast: One in 10 refugee children is now working, the agency estimates, while 1-in-5 Syrian girls in Jordan is forced into early marriage.

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