Thousands of Syrian refugee children are dropping out of school to work and earn money, HuffPost UK has learnt.
Child labour is affecting children as young as 12 and teachers at their makeshift Unicef schools describe pupils “on the verge of collapse” and despondent about the future.
Unicef says around 28% of school-age Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in education – which amounts to more than 90,000 youngsters – and aid workers fear scores are working to feed their family and combat their poverty.
If we do not teach this generation of children, they are going to be lost to us
Teachers Jawahere and Sultan, a sister and brother who fled Damascus and now tutor youngsters in refugee settlements, fear a generation could end up illiterate.
“Time is a big factor here because children are missing out on their school,” said Sultan. “A generation will become illiterate.
“Add to that, these children might take their own path and make bad choices about their future.
“If we do not teach this generation of children, they are going to be lost to us.
″My job makes me feel for these children. When they go home and sit down alone, surely all they can think about is what happened back in Syria.
“I feel like these children are on the verge of collapse. If we don’t give these children the moral support and the psychological support they need they will be destroyed.
“If their circumstances do not change, then there is no hope for them.”
Almost seven years on from the start of the war in Syria, funding for families is dwindling and only the most vulnerable can access help.
Sultan added: “The child answers to the family and their lives here do not offer them any hope.
“When they reach the age of 12, they are forced out from the family to work and to provide for their family.
“If they were provided for by someone then these children would not have to work. They could stay in school.
“Even if these children do finish school and they want to go to university, then there is no university for them so they are stuck again.”
I feel sadness, first of all for the child. In childhood, they were exposed to many things that they should not have been exposed to. They are old beyond their years
Jawahere, herself a law student until the war in Syria forced her from her home said the children she teaches in a tent close to the Syrian border are traumatised and often find it difficult to concentrate.
She said: “They paint aeroplanes, children on the ground with blood coming out of them and things they have witnessed like a house collapsed by the bombings.
“Sometimes they draw toys that they had back at home.
“I feel sadness, first of all for the child. In childhood, they were exposed to many things that they should not have been exposed to. They are old beyond their years. They think as adults and worry about what will happen next.
“At this age, a child shouldn’t know the things they know. They have grown up in a world of war, I wonder what their future will be like because they have not lived a normal childhood.
“They wonder if the future will be like their childhood, their childhood that they never really lived.
“They have only witnessed destruction and killing.”
Syrian refugee children are denied many human rights, she said.
“They were denied so many rights that children in other countries are receiving, for example an education and a home,” she said.
“These children have been denied the right to family life, the right to a normal life. We try to get these children away from this negative kind of thinking, though they have the right to feel angry about it.
“As an adult, I think about it all the time so as children of course they think about this. There is nothing else to think about.”
If they think they have no future, their dreams will be shattered
Jawahere added: “I feel better when I know I have let some happiness into the heart of these small children.
“Even if it is a small portion of happiness, at least I am trying to help the children forget some of the bad things they were exposed to.
“We try to get their mind out of the camp and the situation that they are in.
“I try to tell them that in the future their lives will be better, even though they are stuck here for now. I say forget about now, in the future your life will change.
“We feel like these children have dreams. They believe they will live in Syria and in a country that looks beautiful.
“But, realistically, for us as Syrians, if there is no support and no one to help then that beautiful country won’t exist because the next generation won’t be able to rebuild it.
“We rely on other countries willing to help. If these children get help then that is the only way they have a future.
“If they think they have no future, their dreams will be shattered.”
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