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Syria: the children the world didn’t protect

The shelling was constant in Ruqaya’s* village in Syria. During the night the whole family would take cover from the shells in a hole they’d dug under the house. Their home was damaged three times by shells, and each time they rebuilt. I’m sat cross-legged on the floor, Syrian-style, opposite Ruqaya. I’m here to explain Save the Children’s campaign on preventing the targeting of children in Syria. It’s a campaign that is close to Ruqaya’s heart. Slowly, haltingly, she tells me her story.

Ruqaya holds her son's watch, all that she has left of him.
Ruqaya holds her son’s watch, all that she has left of him.

“My son Mo’tasem* was 15. One day he went to the shop to bring us some food But after he left fighting started. He didn’t come back. I lost my mind with fear for him. I went out in my car looking for him. I was shouting “my son! My son…” but no-one knew anything. I was running from house to house, begging for information. My heart was on fire. I pray that no mother ever has to go through what I went through.

No-one would meet my eyes
Seven days later, I saw my neighbours running to me.  But no-one would meet my eyes. Then my husband came. He told me that Mo’tasem had been killed. I demanded the truth. He had his hands tied behind his back, he was tortured and then executed”.
Ruqaya is shaking, but insists she wants to continue.

Did it hurt? Did he cry out?
“His body was hidden under stores of food. His face was swollen. It broke me. I lost everything that day. He was still so young, he had not yet seen life when they killed him. I wish it was a bullet from a distance at least. But not as they did, tying his hands, shooting him in his leg, heart and head – killing him in cold blood. This is what hurts me – I torture myself thinking – did it hurt? Did he cry out?”
“When I knew we had to leave Syria I went from room to room crying. The only thing I could remember to take was his picture and his watch. So I wrapped them carefully and took them. You see, that is how mothers think – I was in a house with everything but couldn’t remember what else I might need.”

All I can see and all I hear is his pain
“I always remember how he was. Then all the pain he went through comes to my mind and my heart burns again. I ask you – how could anyone do this? Who could slaughter a child? They hid his body and he lay there alone for seven days. I try to bring happy memories to my head but I can’t. All I see and all I hear is his pain. Did he know how much we loved him? At that moment, did he cry out?”
With peace talks taking place in Geneva on 22 January, we have a simple plea – do not target children in this conflict. Find out more about our work in Syria and the surrounding region here.

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