Aid agencies attempt to save 'lost generation' of Syrian children

War has forced 6 million Syrians to leave their homes and children often have no choice but to fend for themselves.

Child labour, child marriage and child trafficking have all become widespread since war began more than six years ago, and UNICEF says concentrated international effort is needed to stop a whole generation from being 'lost'. 

Hassiya, north of Damascus, is a heavy industrial area containing silos, factory plants and now families left homeless by the war.

Hundreds of children are reportedly working in the factories, with at least 29 of them losing limbs due to the hazardous nature of their jobs. 

UNICEF says child labour has steadily increased throughout the conflict, while working conditions have worsened. 

Children are exploited as cheap labour by employers, who abuse their desperate situation and pay them as little as half an adult wage for the same job.

A child protection centre has been established by UNICEF to provide vocational training, psychotherapy, and basic care. 

It's all about options. Twelve-year-old Yassa has been working in a factory with his father. Now he's learning computer skills and hopes to one day be an engineer.

Thirteen-year-old Fida's family home in Palmyra was destroyed by fighting. She says they now live in a one-room tent, but at least they can go to school again.

In the psychotherapy class, the children are encouraged to express themselves and talk about their feelings.

So many children have lost parents to the conflict, or have been separated from mothers and fathers who are searching for work.

In Damascus, a safe house takes in girls living on the street. It's a family-like environment.

"Parents are moving around the country and they tend, unfortunately, to leave their children to fend for themselves," UNICEF's Alessandra Dentice says.

"In a centre like this, girls find a trustworthy environment."

One girl, who didn't want to be identified, tells Newshub how her mother and siblings arrived in Damascus and were living in a park.

They met a man who promised them a place to rent. He disappeared with all their money and never came back.

It's worth remembering these children are the lucky ones. They, at least, have found safety.

If you'd like to donate to help UNICEF's work in Syria, visit their website or call 0800 800 194.