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UN: Millions of Syrian Children Subject to Brutality

FILE - Displaced Syrian children climb a concrete wall at a refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2019.
FILE - Displaced Syrian children climb a concrete wall at a refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2019.

A report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria presents a picture of the many violations and atrocities millions of children have been forced to endure over eight-and-a-half years of civil conflict. The report is entitled "They Have Erased the Dreams of My Children."

The 25-page report documents ways in which Syria’s children have been used and abused by all warring parties to their advantage between September 2011 and the end of October 2019.

The report finds countless girls and boys have been killed and maimed. It says pro-government forces have regularly targeted children using sniper fire and deployed cluster munitions and chemical weapons against schools and hospitals. It says attacks by armed groups and terrorist organizations have caused many child deaths.

Commission Chair Sergio Pinheiro says boys as young as 6 have been recruited as child soldiers and boys and girls have been raped and sexually violated to punish, humiliate and instill fear among communities.

In detention, children have been used to extract confessions from their parents, subjected to torture and ill-treatment, while consistently denied from accessing food, water and medical care," Pinheiro said. "Children are brutally scarred from the Syrian conflict. They have been robbed of their childhood. This is a tragedy that will endure for years to come.”

The report says the youngsters are suffering from severe physical and mental health problems because of the war. It warns more than 5 million children displaced internally and as refugees abroad are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and other violations.

The three-member panel is highly critical of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution that limits the amount of cross-border aid to Syria. Commission member Hanny Megally says children will be the main victims of that decision.

Children may be dying under bombardments. But actually what we are seeing is — and this is what is shocking, I think, in the report — is children are dying preventable deaths as a result of lack of humanitarian assistance and medical aid …So, we are very worried if humanitarian assistance decreases because of the lack of agreement on a robust resolution at the Security Council," Megally said.

The report highlights the devastating situation regarding education in Syria. Since the start of the conflict, it notes, thousands of schools have been destroyed or used for military purposes. That is preventing more than 2 million children from attending classes regularly.

The commissioners are urging states to ensure the protection of displaced children. In particular, they say all states have an obligation to repatriate thousands of children who have family links to Islamic State fighters.

They say some 11,000 children above the age of 12 currently are being held in prison with adults, many suspected IS fighters. They warn those children are in a very precarious situation.