The UN has given warning that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children are vulnerable in their new homes, exposed to dangerous exploitation and at risk of missing out on an education.
A report published by the UN refugee agency UNHCR says children as young as seven have to work to provide for their families.
According to the study, children represent 52 per cent of the total Syrian refugee population, which now exceeds 2.2 million, and 75 percent of them are under the age of 12.
“This is the moment for the international community to fully understand that the support provided to the countries of the region needs to be strongly enhanced, needs to be really massive, because there is a risk for the asylum space if that doesn’t happen,” Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commisioner for Refugees, says.
The UNHCR report found that a majority of the refugee children live in Syria’s neighbouring countries, with Jordan and Lebanon combined hosting more than 60 per cent. As of 31 October 2013, 291,238 Syrian refugee children were living in Jordan and another 385,007 in Lebanon.
The turmoil in Syria has torn families apart, with more than 3,700 children in Jordan and Lebanon living without one or both of their parents, or with no adult care-givers at all.
By the end of September 2013, UNHCR had registered 2,440 unaccompanied or separated children in Lebanon and 1,320 in Jordan. In some cases the parents have died, been detained, or sent their children into exile alone out of fear for their safety.
“Some of them are literally speechless because they have seen horrors that affected them so much... they can’t get it out of their mind, and they are highly traumatized,” UNHCR spokesperson Roberta Russo told Al Jazeera.
Another disturbing symptom of the crisis is the vast number of babies born in exile who do not have birth certificates.
A recent UNHCR survey on birth registration in Lebanon revealed that 77 per cent of 781 refugee infants sampled did not have an official birth certificate. Between January and mid-October 2013, only 68 certificates were issued to babies born in Za’atari camp, Jordan.
A grave consequence of the conflict is that a generation is growing up without a formal education.
More than half of all school-aged Syrian children in Jordan and Lebanon are not in school.
In Lebanon, it is estimated that up to 200,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children could remain out of school at the end of the year.