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They survived ISIS and war. Now a growing number of Syrian kids are forced to work to get by.

Syria’s decade-long war is creating a lost generation. As families carved out a life amid conflict and economic crisis, 2 in 3 children found themselves without access to education. Many are now the breadwinners, working long shifts in tough conditions to bring home much-needed pay.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Aid groups say the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse. Raqqa, a city still rebuilding after the Islamic State’s rise and fall, is home to the highest proportion of households in Syria that are struggling to put enough food on the table.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Children push a car at the mechanic's shop where they work in Raqqa.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Children at this mechanic’s workshop said their parents felt there was little choice. “We need money, and I won’t make that in school,” said Aboud Ashour, 14. The boys have learned to look out for one another, they said. They are most protective of Oday, who has worked at the yard since his parents died. The orphan does not know his surname.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Clockwise from top left: Aboud Ashour, 14; Mahmoud Hassan, 13; Oday, 10, who is an orphan and does not know his surname; and Hussein Hassan, 8, pose for a photo in the mechanic's shop where they work.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Hussein Hassan plays in the garage of the mechanic's shop.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

A boy rides his bike in a village in northeastern Syria on Aug. 6 as burn-off from a nearby oil refinery rises overhead.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Some of Syria’s richest oil fields are in Hasakah province, which is in the northeastern portion of the country under the control of Kurdish-led forces aligned with the United States. An increasing number of children are also working in the northeast’s network of makeshift oil refineries.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Teenage boys work at a makeshift oil refinery in northeastern Syria.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Most of the children interviewed by Washington Post reporters had suffered burns in the process. The chemicals made their lungs hurt, they said. Sometimes the chemicals made them hallucinate. Haytham, 15, said he had started working on the site after his father was killed in the war, leaving the family without a salary.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Haytham speaks to friends as smoke from a furnace’s burn-off rises in the distance.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

A boy drives a tractor at a makeshift oil refinery in northeastern Syria.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

About 2.8 million Syrian children no longer have access to formal education; 1 in 3 schools has been destroyed, damaged or used for military purposes. Some children who do go to school still head out to work in the evening. Some wait tables in restaurants or slice shawarma meat. These boys hawk watermelons at the fruit market.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Teenage boys unload watermelons from a truck and pile them by the roadside to sell in Raqqa.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

A boy selling vegetables retrieves more produce at a market in Hasakah.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

A boy sells watermelons at a fruit and vegetable market in Hasakah.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

At a plastics recycling plant, Fatima Ali Hamees’ voice was almost lost amid the din of the shredding machines that break down bottles for reuse. It had been a year since Fatima, 14, dropped out of school to work at the facility. She starts at 6 in the morning and finishes at 3 in the afternoon. But she misses the classroom. Her favorite subject was art. “Sometimes I still paint in my free time,” she said. “I paint what’s in front of my eyes.”

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Fatima Ali Hamees sorts plastic at a recycling plant in Hasakah.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

A girl loads plastic into a shredding machine at the recycling plant.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Mohamed Ziab, 14, loads a bag of chips into a packaging machine at a factory in Amuda.

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

Nicole Tung for The Washington Post

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Editing by Olivier Laurent and Reem Akkad and Alan Sipress