The number of child suicides has dramatically increased in North West Syria. Photo: Save the Children
The number of child suicides has dramatically increased in North West Syria. Photo: Save the Children

Almost one in five of recorded suicide attempts and deaths in northwest Syria are by children. The overall number of suicides in the area has risen sharply over the past year, jumping by 86% in the first three months of 2021 in comparison with 2020, according to aid organization Save the Children.

At least 42 of all those who attempted suicide in northwest Syria in the last three months of 2020 were aged 15 years or younger, while 18% were adolescents between the ages of 16 and 20, writes Save the Children in a new report published on Friday, April 29.

Last week, Save the Children’s partners confirmed that a 14-year-old boy took his own life in a displacement camp in Hama, the latest in a series of such cases recorded.

InfoMigrants discussed this report with Ahmed Bayram, Save the Children’s Regional Media Manager for the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

InfoMigrants: What has changed in terms of the child suicide rate in northwest Syria over the past year?

Ahmed Bayram: There has been a worrying trend over the past year which shows a steep increase in the number of suicides recorded in northwest Syria, jumping from 132 cases in the first three months to 246 by the end of the year."

Almost one in five suicide attempts is by a child aged 15 or younger. These are shocking numbers, particularly when knowing that a lot of cases go unreported. We are now talking about children as young as 10 who have reached a point where they think of killing themselves. Imagine what such young children must be going through.

What has caused this dramatic change?

While we cannot attribute this problem to one single issue, and while we can never say for sure what is behind every suicide case, we can look at the raft of challenges that children here are experiencing on a daily basis. These children are living amid poverty, family problems, lack of education, child marriage, child labour and bullying. This dire situation, made worse by COVID-19, has aggravated the stresses that children are grappling with.

Children, particularly those in displacement, can register that their environment is not offering them the support that they need, they can see that their contribution is restricted with lack of education opportunities and no hopeful future prospect. After more than ten years of conflict, displacement and poverty, children have reached a point where they are giving up on life.

Is there any aid or support available for vulnerable children regarding this issue?  

Save the Children and our partners implement a host of programs that help suicide survivors and people with mental health problems. We have rolled out suicide prevention awareness programs with our partners who are also offering psychosocial and emotional support to help children open up and talk about their emotions without fear of stigma. But there is a wider challenge with the lack of funding, manifested in the underfunded response at the 5th annual pledging conference, which took place in Brussels in March and raised only $4.4 million out of the $10 billion dollars that is needed for 2021.

The stories are tragic through and through. Our partners do tell us about suicide survivors that receive support. They spoke about a woman who lost one of her children to asthma, which he developed in the damp basement where they lived. The mother simply couldn’t afford to move house and she had no income to support her two other children. Her mental state deteriorated and she attempted suicide several times. But every time she would stop and think ‘who is going to look after my children if I died’.

We also hear about young girls struggling with child marriage as they realize they are not ready yet. One 15-year-old girl who killed herself did so after problems with her husband. They had an argument one day and he left the house. When he came back, he found her dead.

These are the real stories of real people. Behind every suicide in Syria, there is a tragic story of people living in some of the harshest circumstances anywhere in the world. This cannot remain an invisible crisis. Children in Syria are going through what no child should ever experience.

 

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