Rayan’s tragic death should sharpen focus on plight of region’s children

Rayan’s tragic death should sharpen focus on plight of region’s children

Rayan’s tragic death should sharpen focus on plight of region’s children
Emergency crews found five-year-old Rayan Oram dead, at the bottom of a well, in a tragic end to a painstaking five-day rescue operation. (AFP)
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The death of a child is always a tragic event regardless of the circumstances. So, when news broke that a five-year-old Moroccan boy had fallen into a dry well last Tuesday, millions of people tuned in to follow the heroic efforts to save him. Hour by hour and day by day, the saga became news all over the world. People prayed and expressed sympathy for Rayan Oram as he lay injured and trapped in a narrow tunnel that made it impossible for rescue workers to reach him.
On live TV and on social media platforms, people followed — with anxiety and hope — news of the painstaking rescue operation. There was unity and solidarity with the stricken family from all over. And when rescuers finally retrieved the boy on the fifth day of his terrible ordeal, the momentous joy was overwhelming. But it was short-lived. Minutes later, as people cheered and celebrated, the Moroccan Royal Court announced the sad news: Rayan had succumbed to his injuries. The little boy was dead. World leaders and ordinary citizens all over the globe immediately offered their condolences. Rayan had united people and offered a rare glimpse of the meaning of humanity.
His short life and tragic death should act as a reminder that thousands of children see their lives cut short in our part of the world. Rayan’s death was accidental, but it should remind us that, in a politically volatile region, children die mostly for more sinister reasons. They die in wars as collateral damage. They die from severe weather as they huddle in makeshift camps in icy deserts. They die when terrorists kidnap them and force them to fight as child soldiers. They are killed because they belong to the wrong religion, sect or race. They die with their parents as they attempt the hazardous crossing of seas to seek refuge away from their war-torn countries. They die of starvation, malnutrition and neglect.
Last March, UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said Syria’s 10-year-long civil war had killed or wounded about 12,000 children and left millions out of school. That figure could be much higher in reality as the war continues to rage in many areas where observers cannot reach. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 25,000 Syrian children have died since 2011.
Nonstate actors like Daesh, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and pro-Iran factions in Iraq are also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children, either directly or indirectly. When US special forces last week raided a house in Syria’s Idlib province to hunt down Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi, he reportedly blew himself up, killing women and six children.

His death was accidental, but it should remind us that, in a politically volatile Middle East, children die mostly for more sinister reasons.

Osama Al-Sharif

In Iraq, not a week goes by without civilians getting killed in terrorist attacks or by improvised explosive devices, including children who are often caught in the crossfire.
In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, it is the weakening of central governments and civil wars that make life for millions of children so dangerous. International agencies can hardly keep count or maintain aid relief. Today, the same dire fate is facing the people of Afghanistan, especially the more vulnerable children, who could die of hunger this bitter winter. Even in once-thriving Lebanon, children are facing the specter of malnutrition because their families cannot afford to buy healthy food or critical medicines.
But that is not the case when it comes to Palestine, which is a nation under occupation. In the besieged Gaza Strip, 67 Palestinian children died in the 11-day Israeli bombardment last May. It is believed there are at least 22,000 Palestinian orphans living in Gaza. A UNRWA study in 2018 found that, while the infant mortality rate was actually decreasing in many parts of the world, it had not declined over the last decade in Gaza. At the time, it stood at 22.7 per 1,000 live births.
As for the West Bank, suffice it to say that Palestinian children face Israeli army snipers on the one hand and Jewish settler violence on the other. According to Addameer, as of September last year, 200 Palestinian children were being held in Israeli prisons, the majority in pretrial detention, meaning they had not been convicted of any offense.
Rayan’s tragic death should be a reminder that, in many parts of the Arab world, children are dying prematurely because of politics, civil wars and sectarian strife. The empathy shown by the world in the past few days should not wane or dissipate but should expand to look at the bigger picture, because many innocent lives are being cut short on an almost daily basis.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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