According to the United Nations (UN), in August 2013, there were 1 million child refugees from Syria, 50% of the total refugee population. Of the 1 million, about three-quarters or 750,000 were under 11 years old. Today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 3.25 million refugees from Syria. If children still make up 50% of the refugees, then they number approximately 1,625,000, with approximately 1,218,750 being under 11 years old. An additional 3,800,000 Syrian children are internally displaced within their country. Thousands of these children have been orphaned.
Vulnerable to Abuse
Orphans everywhere are vulnerable to abuse, but Syrian orphans face particular dangers. Both rebel militias and jihadist groups target orphaned boys to become child soldiers. As an 8-year old named Ahmed explained: “I ended up helping my uncle and his comrades because I have no other choice, there is no school, my family is dead, what choice do I have?”
Photo: Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA via Newscom
The jihadist group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) actively recruits Sunni Muslim boys to become fighters and forces children from other religions to act as human shields and give blood transfusions to injured fighters.
Girl orphans are vulnerable to underage marriage and sex trafficking both in refugee camps and inside Syria. In neighboring Iraq, ISIS has taken girls captured from other religious groups, including Christians and Yazidis, and auctioned them as “sex slaves.” ISIS charges 100,000 Iraqi dinars (US $85) for girls between the ages of 1 and 9.
Orphans in Islam
Some host countries like Turkey are making provisions for Syrian orphans, including setting up orphanages. However, since all but five Muslim governments forbid adoption, very few Syrian orphans have the chance to be adopted. According to Islam, custodianship (kafalah) is permissible, but it is highly unusual for families to become custodians of children who are not blood-related. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 20 does not prioritize family care. As a result, orphans in Muslim countries are frequently institutionalized and some end up homeless. Without government or religious support for adoption, the prospects for becoming part of a new family are dim.
Syrian orphans need long-term solutions, including those that involve family care. Cooperative problem-solving between the UN, Muslim governments, religious leaders, the private and non-profit sectors, and extended families are needed to improve their lives. The stakes are high because children without the love and care of a family are at higher risk of being exploited and are more likely to become dangers to themselves and others. In the words of one orphan advocate, “They are time bombs.”
How to Pray
- Pray for the Lord’s favor on Syrian orphans, that they would be released from their captivity (spiritual, political, economic), and receive “the oil of joy.” -Isaiah 61:1-3
- Pray that God would provide people to meet their basic needs (e.g. food, clothes, medicine, shelter) -Matthew 25:35-40
- Pray that the Lord would uphold and protect “the fatherless” from the wicked (e.g. jihadists, sex traffickers). -Psalm 146:9