A new report from the children’s charity UNICEF says Syrian children have “paid the heaviest price in this six-year war,” laying out in stark detail the horrors perpetrated against minors during the civil war in 2016 alone, with 652 children killed in attacks and at least 850 others recruited to take part in the fighting — including, in extreme cases, as executioners, suicide bombers, and prison guards.
The report says that a drastic escalation of violence meant that suffering “hit rock-bottom” for Syrian children in 2016.
“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. “Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down. Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”
As well as the rising death toll, the conflict has also forced families to take drastic measures just to survive. This has seen a rise in child labor, early marriage and child recruitment. The number of children coerced to take part in fighting almost tripled compared to 2015, and children are being recruited at an ever younger age.
Juliette Touma, Unicef’s regional spokesperson, told the Guardian that children are “being used to man checkpoints, being trained to use weapons, serving as prison guards. We also have reports of sexual abuse of girls by underage children, so it’s very grim.”
The charity says the number of children who have died in fighting is likely to be much higher than the verified figure given.
Here are some of the grim statistics:
- 5.8 million children in Syria are in need of aid
- 652 children were killed from attacks in 2016 — a 20% increase on the year before
- 255 of the children killed in Syria last year died in or near a school
- 96 children were killed in Aleppo with 223 children injured in a single week last September
- 84 attacks on schools were documented by the United Nations in 2016
- 850 children were recruited last year to fight in the conflict, up from 362 in 2015
- 6 million children now depend on humanitarian aid to survive – a 12-fold increase from 2012
- 2.3 million children are now living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, with many taking the “death boats” crossing the Mediterranean to Europe
- 280,000 children live under siege in hard-to-reach areas, with food and medical supplies almost severely restricted
There are some small signs of hope however. Last year, some 12,600 school children crossed active conflict lines in Syria to sit for their final school exams.