Children are being used as sniper targets and human shields in the Syria war, the UN said on Wednesday, in a report that added Mali to its child soldier list of shame.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report the 26-month-old war in Syria is taking an “unacceptable and unbearable” toll on children with thousands among the death toll.
The office of UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui said it had received “verified reports that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror tactics.”
Zerrougui presented the report, which said boys as young as 10 are used by armed groups to work as combatants and porters.
It said there were a growing number of reports of the Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group, recruiting children, mostly between 15 and 17.
Sexual violence has been used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against boys to obtain information or confessions, the special representative said.
Child detainees as young as 14 were tortured like adults “including electric shock, beatings, stress positions and threats and acts of sexual torture.”
Thousands of children “have seen family members killed or injured,” the report said.
“Everyone involved in the conflict needs to take urgent measures to protect children,” Zerrougui said. “Allowing access for lifesaving humanitarian assistance is essential. We cannot allow innocent children to continue to die because they can’t see a doctor, or because they can’t fulfill their basic needs.”
Mali, where Islamist groups took over the north of the country until a French-led intervention in January, was the only new country added to the UN blacklist released each year.
Tuareg rebels, al-Qaeda Islamists and pro-government militias used hundreds of child soldiers in Mali, Zerrougui said.
Children make up more than half of Mali’s population of 15.8 million and many have been abducted for armed groups and girls forced to become the wives of combatants, Zerrougui told a press conference.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Ansra Dine rebel groups were all named in the UN report.
“Sexual violence against girls by armed groups was reported to be widespread and systematic in northern Mali,” said the report, which highlighted hundreds of cases of rape, gang rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage since the uprising in March last year.
Chad’s national army is on the UN list, but is also being considered for the UN peacekeeping force scheduled to deploy in Mali in July, Zerrougui said. However, she added that Chad’s government had made a “very strong commitment” to end the use of child soldiers.
Widespread use of child combatants and sexual violence had also been reported in the Central African Republic.
Nine government armies and 46 armed groups — ranging from national armies in Afghanistan and Somalia to rebel groups in Myanmar and the Philippines — are on the UN list for using children as soldiers or torturing and raping children.
Zerrougui said action plans to end the use of child soldiers had been launched with government forces and armed groups in Myanmar, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
Thousands of children had also been released by armed groups last year. Nepal and Sri Lanka have been taken off the UN list.