War devastates more than just the lives of soldiers on the front line. In the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria (map), young children know all too well the pain of political unrest.
Heavy clashes between the Syrian regime and a rebel army have thrust the country into unrelenting conflict, leaving civilians fearful and shaken. Syria's children—known to some as the "lost generation" because of insufficient international support—have become the neglected victims of violence.
Here, a young Syrian girl waits patiently in line at the window where she and her family will receive food. Life for many families in Syria has changed since the conflict began; in Aleppo's poorest neighborhoods, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports that relying on donations from foreign aid organizations has become the new norm.
Photograph by Bulent Kilic, AFP/Getty Images
Nothing but War
Dreams of the future have been replaced by visions of jihad and violence for many young men growing up in war-torn Syria.
"Their role models are the jihadists who blow themselves up," one rebel commander told AFP. "They have forgotten, and in the case of the toddlers, they have never even known normal life. They haven't known anything but war."
Photograph by Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP/Getty Images
No Time for Play
A young boy trims greens at a street market in Aleppo, where he works instead of attending school. The conflict has forced many children to beg on the street or find jobs in order to provide for their families.
It was not uncommon for teenagers to quit school and work even before the war began, notes Marie Roudani of Agence France-Presse. But now, any semblance of childhood that Syrian youth may have had before the conflict has been destroyed.
"Play? When I get back home [from work], I have neither the time nor the energy to play," nine-year-old Yehya told AFP.
Photograph by Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP/Getty Images
Syrian girls attend class at a school in the Kadi Askar area of Aleppo. They are among the fortunate few who have a school to attend at all. One-fifth of all schools in Syria have been damaged or turned into shelters for displaced persons, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Francine Uenuma, Director of Media Relations and Communication for the aid group Save the Children, which works with Syrian children, estimates that only six percent of children in the city of Aleppo are currently attending school.
Far from being the "zones of peace" they should be, the situation for schools in Syria is "unacceptable," noted Maria Calivis, UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement last December.
Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images
A young boy stands among a flood of Syrian refugees streaming into the Za'atari refugee camp in Mafrq, Jordan.
The violence in Syria has displaced record numbers of people and given many families no choice but to leave their homes—or what's left of them—behind. By Save the Children's estimate, 3 million buildings have been destroyed in the country, forcing nearly 80,000 people to sleep in caves, parks, or barns. (See "First Person: Sneaking Into Iraq 10 Years Ago.")
"I don't have any toys or games that I can play with any more," one 12-year-old boy told UNICEF. "I lost all of them when the house was destroyed. We were in the house when the mortar hit. It was so scary. The walls came down, and everything was destroyed, but God saved us."
Photograph by Jeff J. Mitchell, Getty Images
A Child's Death
A group of men carry the cloth-wrapped body of a six-year-old girl after she was found in the rubble of a building destroyed by a missile in Aleppo.
Since the conflict began, the UN estimates at least 70,000 children have been killed within Syria, according to Francine Uenuma of the aid group Save the Children.
Photograph by Pablo Tosco, AFP/Getty Images
Caught in the Middle
A single mother of three sits next to one of her daughters in their home in Aleppo's Saif Al Dawla district. The war is particularly complicated for those, like her, of Palestinian-Syrian heritage, who are caught in the middle of both sides and must often hide their origin.
While men fight on the front lines, "women are waging an even bigger jihad because they have the education of future generations in their hands, the future of all of Syria," said one rebel fighter.
Photograph by Maysun, European Pressphoto Agency
In Syria, simple activities like a bike ride become impossible when the streets are cluttered with wreckage. Even when the streets are clean, there is still the ever present threat of exploding car bombs and missile strikes.
Here, a young boy walks his bike through the debris left behind after a car bomb was detonated earlier this week in central Damascus (map). The explosion killed at least 15 people, with children suspected to be among the dead, according to AFP.
In another incident this week, Al Jazeera reported that a bomb in the province of Deraa took the lives of six children and 51 adults—further raising Syria's already heinous death toll.
Photograph by Andrea Bruce, New York Times/Redux
A Child's Agony
Ahmed collapses in sobs at the funeral of his father, Abdulaziz Abu Ahmed Khrer, who was killed by a sniper's bullet.
More than two million children have been directly affected by the Syrian conflict, according to UNICEF. The loss of normality has reached a breaking point. Schools have been destroyed, families ripped apart, and innocent people killed, including the children of Aleppo themselves.