In Syria, an orphan is a child under the age of 18 who has lost his or her father or both parents. When that happens, a relative or someone in the community applies to be a sponsor. If accepted, government or private charities provide the sponsor with a monthly stipend of SP20,000 (approximately $106) to cover the child’s living expenses.
The Homs Office for the Protection of Orphans, a non-partisan, local humanitarian organization that monitors the treatment of orphans in Syria’s largest province, began earlier this year to look at the number of unsponsored orphans in the province. While the province-wide count is ongoing, the office announced the presence of 95 unsponsored orphans in the district of Waer in Homs city, the last holdout neighborhood that agreed to a truce with the regime two months ago.
But what happens if no one steps up to sponsor a child? “There is no one to pay for their expenses,” Abu Jamal, the director of the Homs Office for the Protection of Orphans, tells Syria Direct’s Shereen a-Nassar.
Q: How many unsponsored orphans are there in the province of Homs?
It is difficult to do a precise count because of the displacement of residents, both the internally displaced within Syria as well as refugees in neighboring countries.
At the beginning of this year, a two-person committee was formed that conducted the count, but only in Waer. The result was 95 unsponsored orphans, which is a large figure relative to the population of the neighborhood, and the number continues to rise.
Q: Why are there so many unsponsored orphans in Waer?
Some of the associations have moved away from the real goal of charity work, because they are interested in their bottom line, so they keep their numbers low. For example, they take in two orphans even though they could take twice as many.
There are associations that take the assistance that comes into the neighborhood and give it to families outside of the neighborhood. I want to make an important point here. We do not know if the families taking the aid are registered in their own areas, but we have families here in the neighborhood that are suffering from severe poverty, so it is not logical to take the aid out of the neighborhood.
Q: Do potential sponsors of an orphan face barriers when trying to take one in?
Yes, there are barriers, for example, it is required to present a death certificate(s) [from the regime] of the parent(s) of the orphan, which costs $100 each. Many people do not have that. The applicant must also deal with questions, such as, “How did the orphan’s father die? Which rebel faction did he belong to? Which terrorist organization did he work with?” in order to release the death certificate. Most people are neutral and do not belong to any faction.
It is important to note that the Homs Office for the Protection of Orphans does not have any relations with any political, partisan, or sectarian bodies. Our work is purely humanitarian.
Q: What happens to unsponsored orphans?
There is no one to pay for their expenses. When an orphan whose sponsorship has ended comes to us and wants to register, I feel hopeless and powerless.
Q: What have you been able to do?
We are working to create a law whereby orphans would have equal rights and there would be no difference between one orphan or another, regardless of sponsorship, in order to avoid all types of discrimination.
We are also working on creating a regulatory body in order to curb the arbitrary acts that go against the mission of charity work, as I mentioned before.