Children of Zaatari camp | Photo credit Oxfam International
The iconic images of the Syrian civil war involve children: children fleeing across the border with their family, children being rescued from urban bombings, and children being carried by parents in search of safety and medical care. These images of children as victims, observers, and bystanders, reflect an understanding of children as needful of nurture and protection.
During conflicts children face many threats to their health and well-being. They also risk asset losses that can follow them into their adult years. Notable examples are the stories of Holocaust survivors. Many survivors learned of family assets late in their lives and then struggled to reclaim them.
Where there is forced displacement, assets are often lost. In some cases, like Syria, this is intentional. There “ Property registries have been deliberately bombed, title deeds are seized at military checkpoints and new laws have been passed to make it easier for the regime to grab land, businesses and homes.” Syrian families are losing assets. When it becomes possible to return to Syria, reclaiming assets will be a challenge. Young people raised in places of refuge may not know what the family assets are. They might lack documentation or be unaware of the steps they need to take in order to reclaim assets. This negatively impacts their ability to rebuild their lives if/when they return home.
Asset loss for children is a problem in many fragile environments. During the HIV/AIDs pandemic years in Sub-Saharan Africa, many children lost their parents and then lost family property to relatives or outsiders. Their economic opportunities became limited when they lost property assets.
In a recent article, Protecting Future Rights for Future Citizens, I suggest ways to protect children’s access to assets. My suggestions target both states and humanitarian organizations. I argue that states that do not currently legally protect children’s assets from expropriation should do so. South Africa’s Children’s Act provides an excellent example of how to do this. Humanitarian organizations can also take actions to prevent this problem. They can collect records on family assets of displaced people, include children as owners of those assets, and record them in a way that is both secure and portable. Blockchain technology allows record storage that is both private and protected. It is used for property records in Honduras and Estonia. Recording children’s future assets provides the means for them to reclaim family property.
The average length of displacement as a result of violence is 17 years – time enough for children to grow up and begin to support themselves. Creating the possibility for young people to return home and reclaim assets is one way of facilitating community reconstruction after conflict.