A Vatican statement released on Friday from its UN representative, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, denounces a series of atrocities committed by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) against children in Syria. The statement follows the release of a similar speech on Thursday, which was the first Vatican document to mention the Islamic State by name, rather than the more generic “religious fundamentalism.”
The new statement, which Tomasi pronounced before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, once again names the Islamic State, in what appears to be a new Vatican policy of clarity in dealing with ISIS.
The Archbishop said that a number of sources have shown how children suffer the brutal consequences of a persistent status of war in Syria. “Children are recruited, trained, and used in active combat roles, at times even as human shields in military attacks,” he said.
The so-called Islamic State (ISIL) group has worsened the situation by training and using children as suicide bombers; killing children who belong to different religious and ethnic communities; selling children as slaves in markets; executing large numbers of boys; and committing other atrocities.
The Archbishop said that in camps throughout the Middle East, children constitute approximately half the refugee population and they are “the most vulnerable demographic group in times of conflict and displacement.”
“Many,” he said, “are separated from their families, have difficulties accessing basic services, and live in increasing poverty. Only one in two Syrian refugee children in the neighboring countries is receiving education.”
The Archbishop also chronicled other difficult issues children of war-torn Syria face under the Islamic State.
He spoke of the problem of the millions of stateless children, who, according to the law, were never born, as well as those of several thousand unregistered children scattered in camps and other asylum countries. These are “phantom kids,” Tomasi said, “whose parents have escaped from Syria but whose name and date of birth were never registered at any office.”
While all stateless persons face grave difficulties, he said, those fleeing Syria face challenges that are even more dramatic: a child below eleven years of age and without documents has no access even to the most basic services, cannot go to school, and is vulnerable to many different forms of abuse and mistreatment.
Since “these children are at risk of becoming a lost generation,” the international community must make their future a priority, extending every possible form of assistance to save them from their plight, he declared.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.