13-year-old Rasha* recalls her experiences as a refugee.
“There are things that you just can’t forget,” said 13-year-old Rasha*, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan. With a steady gaze, she described the day her school in Syria was bombed. She was only 8 years old at the time, but she remembered how her brothers tried to assist the wounded, still trapped under the rubble.
She remembered watching her friend’s last moments.
She remembered how scared she was to flee her home in Syria and how the only comfort she found was in a teddy bear named “Hayati” that her brother gave her before they left.
Even for children, some experiences are so awful that the memory refuses to fade with time.
Rasha’s story is heartbreaking, but not unique. Many children around the world witness horrific events and are forced to grow up too quickly—especially if they are female. According to Save the Children’s newly released End of Childhood report, 1.2 billion children across the world are at risk of losing their childhoods due to conflict, widespread poverty and discrimination. Those conditions also increase the risk for other childhood-ending experiences such as forced marriage, early pregnancy or gender-based violence.
Fortunately, programs like the ones offered by Save the Children in Rasha’s new community help to identify, treat and heal the children’s physical, emotional and mental wounds. Of course, Rasha misses her old school with its many playgrounds and the friends who used to gather there. But she is grateful to still have access to education—a right not always guaranteed to those in her position.
For any child, school plays an important role in building confidence and dignity. Yet according to the report, at least 27 million children are out of school due to conflict. Furthermore, primary-school-aged girls living in fragile situations are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys.
Holding Our Leaders Accountable
Rasha—and every child who has suffered and lost years of their childhood—deserves a new beginning, a chance to close the wounds of the past and look toward a brighter future. We must keep working to ensure that they have access to quality support systems to do so. In the same regard, we must fight to prevent children from having similar experiences in the first place. That means holding our world leaders accountable to their youngest citizens.
The Save the Children report calls on governments to ensure that no child dies from preventable or treatable causes or is forced into marriage or early pregnancy. It also demands that every child has access to a quality education. By urging the U.S. Congress and governments worldwide to invest in children, we can help ensure that future generations have the chance just to be kids. After all, we know that policies and investments can make a difference. The report found that the overall situation for children appears more favorable than last year in 95 of 175 countries.
Unfortunately, the report also found that lost childhoods are increasingly concentrated among the poorest children and those affected by conflict. We owe it to Rasha and her friends to take action. We owe it to every child who has experienced tragedy or violence. Today, on International Children’s Day, let’s pledge to build a brighter, safer future for all children.
 The Many Faces of Exclusion, Save the Children
*Name changed to protect her identity