More than 40,000 Syrian children are out of school as a direct result of British aid cuts and more schools could soon close, a leading charity has said.
British funding for 133 schools run by Syria Relief ended on 30 April, as the government cut its total foreign aid spending from its commitment of 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.
“If funds are not found to plug the gaps left by the UK government and other donors, a generation of children in northern Syria will be out of school and this will lead to a close-to-immediate rise in child labour, child marriage, early pregnancies, child conscription to military and armed groups, child exploitation and child trafficking,” said Jessica Adams, head of communications for Syria Relief and its parent charity, Action For Humanity.
“This was a political choice that we, and the children, parents and teachers of Syria, hope desperately will be reversed.”
The details of the UK’s “rushed” £4.2bn spending cuts in 2021 were revealed in March, and it was Syria that received the harshest cuts, despite millions of people still living in refugee and displacement camps more than 10 years after the conflict began.
Spending on Syria was slashed by 69%, including cuts to programmes on education, health, maternal health and Palestinian refugees.
Syria Relief said it had been the largest non-government provider of schools in Syria, with 306 schools. But with other donors also reducing spending or redirecting aid to Ukraine, it currently supports 3,600 children in 24 remaining schools, which face closure by August, leaving a total of 100,000 children left without an education since 2021.
The charity said the closures would defeat the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s stated goal of helping more girls into school and would push more girls into early marriages.
“If this school closes we will have to send them to schools that ask for money, but we don’t have money, not even for rent, so we need the school to stay open,” said Abu Halid, whose children are at school in Mahmoodli camp for internally displaced people in northern Syria.
According to Syria Relief, camp schools are overcrowded without electricity or heating. The charity said there are already high rates of child labour and early marriages among the war’s displaced people, which are likely to quickly increase if more schools are shut.
“There are more than 2.4 million children out of school in Syria, and unless we significantly scale up our support, even more are at risk of dropping out. Rapid and substantial investments are now required to help us break the vicious cycle of suffering, violence and despair,” Joyce Msuya, assistant secretary general for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the UN security council last week.
The UN estimates 14.6 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid. The EU is hosting a conference next week aimed at encouraging donations and pushing for a resolution to the conflict.