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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Children in Syria's war being killed at higher rate than in 2013

United Nations report says that minors are being recruited in combat roles by all sides in the eight-year conflict

Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after an air strike in Aleppo in 2014. REUTERS
Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after an air strike in Aleppo in 2014. REUTERS

Children are being killed or maimed in Syria's civil war at a rate higher than five years ago, with the regime's barrel bomb attacks and air strikes among the largest cause of fatalities, said a UN Security Council report released Wednesday.

In all, investigators verified 12,537 grave violations against children, with all parties to the conflict guilty of breaching international law affecting minors. And with the conflict now in its eighth year boys and girls continue to be recruited for combat roles, including by the government.

The report, titled ‘Children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic’, covered the period between November 16, 2013 and the end of June this year. Intense fighting in that time as well as the plethora of countries and groups involved means the numbers are likely a gross underestimate, the UN said.

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“All parties to the conflict have flagrantly violated their obligations to protect children under international humanitarian and human rights law,” the report said.

“Indiscriminate attacks, including aerial attacks and the use of barrel bombs by government forces were the primary cause of death and maiming among children.”

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's forces have taken the upper hand in the war over the past year but the prospects of any end to fighting appear dim.

The Geneva peace talks – a UN process – foundered to the point of not being taken seriously. A rival Astana peace process led by Russia, Iran and Turkey, calculated on their interests, resumed on Wednesday.

Those present discussed a crumbling 10-week-old truce in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib after confrontations between rebels and government early this week threatened to derail the agreement.

Although the outgoing UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura was in Astana the item he was expected to discuss – the formation of a committee to draft a new Syrian constitution – does not seem to be on the official agenda for the two-day talks.

The violence on the ground continues, with children being recruited as soldiers.

Wednesday's Security Council report on grave violations against children said the numbers of such incidents had mostly increased year by year. There were 2,285 in 2014, 2,740 in 2015, 3,151 in 2016 and 3,009 last year. In the first six months of 2018 the UN has verified 1,291 grave violations.

The UN said 3,377 children – 3,150 boys and 227 girls – were recruited, with 82 per cent of them serving in a combat role involving arms and uniform and sometimes including military training.

Those numbers have also risen in the past five years: 351 in 2014, 538 in 2015, 1,034 in 2016 and 1,142 in 2017, with children overall becoming younger, the report said.

Verified cases were attributed to groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, Kurdish armed groups (the so-called People's Protection Units), government forces and pro-government militias, with 76 children being identified as foreigners from among 17 nationalities.