This month marked the fourth anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict and the world's greatest humanitarian crisis, which continues to deepen. As we enter the fifth year, 3.8million children and their families have fled the country and a further 7.6million are displaced within the borders of Syria. It seems there is no end in sight for a whole generation of people who continue to suffer as a consequence of the vicious civil war.
Children often pay the biggest price in times of conflict, which exposes them to trauma, exploitation and abuse. Syrian children and their families are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the challenging living conditions. Many are without food and water and have found it hard to endure the harsh winter weather. A large number have to work to support themselves and their families; girls are being married off for their 'safety' and boys are being recruited into armed groups.
Education has a profound, positive effect on children's wellbeing and future prospects as well as on economic development, stability and peace. Prior to the crisis, Syria had the highest literacy rate in the region: over 90 percent. The country has traditionally set a high value on education, with 97 percent attendance for primary school aged children and a dedicated 5 percent of GDP on national learning . Four years into the conflict, it has been estimated that Syria now has the second worst enrolment rate in the world with almost three million children no longer in school.
During my visit to the vast Za'atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan last December, I saw at first hand the impact of the war on the lives of its 80,000 residents, more than half of whom are children. The camp had a dozen primary schools, struggling to cope with the pressure. Children had to be taught in shifts.
But in some respects, the Za'atari children were the lucky ones. Many children in Syria, as well as the refugees in neighbouring countries, are unable to go to school. The war is wrecking their prospects for a successful future. It is, quite simply, stealing their life chances.
A recent report by Save the Children has shown the economic importance of prioritising investment in protecting education for Syrian children, and why this continues to be vital. The financial impact on Syria has been huge. Lost wages suffered by Syrian children as a result of missing school is calculated at 5.4% of GDP, or £1.46billion. The cost of replacing of replacing damaged, destroyed or occupied schools is £2.1billion. Syria simply cannot afford to lose a whole generation of children to conflict and violence.
At the forthcoming Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait on 31 March, the UK must ensure that both education and child protection remain at the top of the world's agenda. Education is fundamental to any hope of recovery when the conflict is over; we have to protect it for the benefit of both Syria and the wider region. Britain must show leadership and let the world know why education must remain a priority.
The international community has faced criticism for failing to meet its commitments to support Syrian children. This must not be allowed to continue. The Kuwait conference provides the opportunity for the world to restore hope to a generation of Syrian children, and Britain has a major leadership role to play.
Rt Hon David Jones MP is the Conservative MP for Clwyd West