New York : A UN report has said that over 7,000 children have been killed or injured in Syria’s seven-year war and cited unverified reports putting the number “way beyond 20,000”.
“I am deeply disturbed by the stories of children born and raised throughout this conflict, children who have never seen peace in Syria,” said Virginia Gamba, the UN’s special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, who addressed the Security Council on Friday.
This year has been particularly woeful for Syria’s children as violations against them rise significantly, according to a UN monitoring body, which verified over 1,200 such violations, including the deaths or injury of more than 600 children, CNN reported.
“Children who have suffered repeatedly of all types of violations in their homes, communities, schools, detention centres and in refugee and IDP settings. We must think that these children are in severe psychosocial distress. They do not know the meaning of the word ‘peace,'” she said.
In early 2014, the UN admitted it had stopped officially counting deaths in Syria as it could no longer rely on its own data, with its access to much of the country impeded.
It generally puts the death toll of the war at 400,000, but it relies on other monitoring groups’ unverified accounts to do so.
“Every year since then, there has been a tremendous increase in all grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict,” Gamba said.
The team verified six violations — namely the recruitment and use of children by parties in the conflict, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, attacks on hospitals and schools, abductions, and denial of humanitarian access.
Most of the recruitment of children was committed by non-state groups, while most killing and maiming was attributable to the Syrian government and pro-government forces, Gamba said.
In 2018 alone, over 1,300 children were reportedly held by parties in northeastern Syria, according to Gamba, but the UN monitoring team could only verify seven cases as the areas affected were largely inaccessible.
In other areas, the team verified more than 350 cases since 2014.
The report said that the Syrian war “began to turn in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour as his forces began to seize swathes of territory from Islamic State and opposition rebel groups in 2016”.
Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, repeatedly bombed schools and medical facilities. However, both countries denied they deliberately target schools or civilians.
Gamba called for humanitarian access to be granted to children all over Syria. The UN has struggled to provide aid to many parts of Syria held by opposition groups.
“It is time for the children of Syria to believe in their own future and to learn what peace means. It is time for them to retake the childhood that was taken away from them,” she said.