With child abandonment rates on the rise in northern Syria, an increasing number of newborns in northwest Syria find themselves waking up on a cold floor, if not outdoors.
In a conservative society in which relationships outside of marriage are not tolerated, deteriorating economic conditions are yet another reason driving child abandonment rates higher, as many parents leave their children on the streets in the hope someone else would take care of them.
This has led to the emergence of a new generation of abandoned children of unknown parentage in northwest Syria.
Younes Abu Amin, supervisor of the Case Management Team at the Child Home Organization, told Al-Monitor that the organization was established more than a year and a half ago in the Sarmada region in northern Syria to cater to abandoned children and provide them with basic services such as shelter, education and psychological support.
He said that after children receive basic care, they try to find them a family.
“We first start by looking for the birth family and if we cannot find that family, we start looking for another family, preferably the child’s relatives such as a grandfather or uncle. If we are unable to find the birth family, we resort to a placement with another family,” he explained.
Abu Amin noted, “Families are divided into categories and subsequently evaluated to see which family is best capable of providing the needed care for an abandoned child.”
He said that the Child Home Organization can accommodate up to 50 children. Since its inception, 216 children in total have been offered a variety of services, including shelter, education, psychological support and reunification, among other services.
“We mainly focus on abandoned children with unknown parentage. Over the past months, we found an average of three to four newborns near mosques and health centers or on roads,” he added.
Abu Amin said that one of the reasons driving families to abandon their children is either extreme poverty and displacement or adultery, which could lead to disputes and domestic violence. He said that the number of children who do not have any proper care arrangement in northern Syria has increased compared to five years ago.
He pointed out that in order to limit the spread of this phenomenon, it is necessary to raise awareness in the community in order to consolidate values and moral principles, as evidenced by the increase in the number of families wishing to sponsor children. “There are families who visit our center from time to time and register as sponsor families wishing to care for children,” he said.
Abu Amin added, “Our main goal is to reunite families once children receive all the services offered by the organization.”
Ammar Salim, a 55-year-old sponsor from Sarmada who works as a warehouse keeper in the local council of Idlib, told Al-Monitor that he named the child he sponsored Noor, and she is now six months old.
“I have no children and I had been trying for a long time. We hear a lot of cases of abandoned children with unknown parents, and that people live in camps because of poverty and because of the ongoing war,” he said.
Salim believes that sponsoring an abandoned child is humanitarian work, and hopes that he will be able to cater to all of Noor’s needs.
He noted that sending these children out into the streets is illegal, and that he hopes they would be cared for in light of the difficult circumstances plaguing the area. “If I and others do not help with such issues, what will these children’s lives look like? What would lie in store for them, and what fate would befall them? Only God knows,” he added.
He said that when he sponsored Noor, her health was very poor, as she only weighed 600 grams (1 pound, 5 ounces). “We do not have any background information on the child, but we heard that she was left in front of a hospital in Sarmada,” he said.
Salim’s wife, Salwa Saeed Saeed, told Al-Monitor, “This is the reason I agreed that we sponsor Noor. I do not have children, and all I want is a child to raise and give love and affection to. It all happened without any planning, but I find myself loving her more and more every day. I can never imagine my life without her.”
She said that they wish Noor all the best and hope that a good future lies in store for her, and that they would be treating her like their own.
More than half of the children in Syria are deprived of education, and some of them have not received any education for 10 years. According to UNICEF, there are more than 2.4 million children in Syria who have not received any education, about 40% of whom are girls.
Since the beginning of the Syrian war, about 6 million Syrian children have been born, and these children know nothing but war and displacement. An average of one child is killed every 10 hours due to violence in Syria.
The Syrian conflict, since its outbreak in 2011, has resulted in more than 387,000 deaths, and the United Nations has counted the displacement of 6.7 million Syrians inside the country and 5.5 million outside of it.