Airstrikes versus spiders: survey compares the fears of Syria’s children with their peers around the world


March 9: A new international survey from World Vision reveals the startling contrast between the fears of children engulfed in the Syrian crisis with those in safer countries – but also shows heartening evidence that youngsters’ dreams for the future remain intact across the board.

The report ‘Fears and Dreams’, published in the lead-up to the sixth anniversary of the Syrian crisis, offers a fascinating insight into the perception of violence among children surveyed inside Syria, those now living as refugees in neighbouring countries, and their peers growing up in six relatively stable nations.

The survey found 43 per cent of Syrian children feared airstrikes, shelling and explosions the most. Compare that with just three per cent of Canadian children who were concerned for their safety or almost half of Korean children who cited ‘typical’ childhood fears like spiders and ghosts.

However, in what could be viewed as a case of ‘our fears, their reality’, 64 per cent of German children told World Vision they were most afraid of war and terrorism.

"We’re now entering the seventh year of the conflict and with that comes a generation of Syrian children who have only known bloodshed and misery. Unfortunately, a different type of violence often awaits them beyond Syria’s borders, namely child labour, early marriage and other forms of exploitation and bullying,” says Wynn Flaten, Director of World Vision’s Syria Response.

But despite the odds, Syrian children remain remarkably positive about the future.

While half dream of peace and returning home to Syria and a further 12 per cent want to be reunited with a lost loved-one, 33 per cent told World Vision they dreamed of pursuing a particular career in the future; just like the majority of their peers around the world.

“My biggest dream is to become a pilot, it would be amazing to see the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, everywhere,” says 10-year-old Hamza from Damascus.

“I want to become an electrical engineer so I can help rebuild Syria,” says 14-year-old Ghina also from Damascus.

“For many of us working to support families in this intractable conflict, our biggest fear has always been that the hopes of Syria’s children might fade. This report has thankfully done something to allay that concern for us,” says Wynn Flaten. “However, it’s clear the violence many have witnessed during childhood – which most of us could only imagine – will stay with them their whole lives and they will need ongoing support.”

The report also revealed empathy for people in different circumstances, with 22 per cent of German children dreaming of peace and helping others.

“I dream of working for the immigration authority like my father. The reason for that is easy; I would like to help the refugees,” says 10-year-old Emily from Potsdam.

“The report’s overwhelming conclusion is that all children have fears and dreams - although Syria’s children face much greater obstacles,” says Wynn Flaten. Whether they can work through their fears and achieve their dreams is largely up to the international community. World Vision’s new campaign It takes a world to end violence against children requires all of us to become relentless advocates for young Syrians and any other child in need of protection.”

Further survey highlights

  • 84% of Korean children said their dream was to attain a particular job. The most popular occupations were K-Pop star and Astronaut
  • 9% of Korean fear for their safety often referencing physical punishment
  • 43% of Australian children dream of a particular career. The most common response was professional athlete
  • 35% of Australian children fear for their safety, often referencing war and terrorism
  • 54% of Canadian children dream of a particular career. The most common response was professional athlete
  • 73% of Canadian children had ‘typical’ fears like the dark, spiders and sharks
  • 30% of New Zealand children dreamed of world peace and equality
  • 15% of New Zealand feared difficulty getting a job when they grew up/ no money
  • 59% of German children dream of a good job/ being successful
  • 44% of Irish children dream of happiness/ a happy family in future
  • 23% of Irish children fear poverty, inequality and racism in the world

World Vision’s response

World Vision works inside Syria and supports refugees in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq through education, child protection including Child Friendly Spaces, food and cash assistance, water, sanitation, health, and winter supplies. Expert staff offer children psychosocial support and provide them with remedial education, life-skills and safe places to play. “It’s our hope these interventions will help children through their experiences, educate them about their rights and how to protect themselves and to resolve social conflicts peacefully,” says Wynn Flaten, Director of World Vision’s Syria Response.

In addition, the aid agency is engaging teachers in refugee host countries to promote a protective environment for children at school, training parents and caregivers in Positive Discipline and establishing Community Based Child Protection Committees to recognise and refer all cases of violence including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, child labour and early marriage.

Internationally World Vision continues to advocate for donors to commit to longer term funding for the Syrian crisis, for wealthy countries to take their fair share of refugees and decision-makers to put an end to the violence; calling on the United Nations Security Council in particular to use all of the diplomatic tools at its disposal to stop the atrocities and protect children and their families.