Children in Syria were tortured, executed and used as human shields by the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad's regime during military raids against rebels, a U.N. report released Monday said.
Children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, and used as human shields, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's report on children and armed conflict during 2011 stated.
The report, based on interviews with child victims and witnesses in refugee camps, villages and hospitals, found that children were among the victims of military operations by government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the Shabbiha militia, in their ongoing conflict with the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Interviews conducted by the technical mission members sent by a U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict with former members of the Syrian Armed Forces and the intelligence forces indicated that civilians, including children, were targeted by the regime forces if they were residing in villages where members of the FSA or other armed opposition groups were believed to be present or if they were seen fleeing the country seeking refuge.
A former member of the Syrian Armed Forces stated that during protests in Tall Kalakh in December 2011, he was given an order by his commander to shoot without distinction despite being aware that there were women and children among the protesters.
In another similar incident in Aleppo in the fourth quarter of 2011, a former member of the intelligence forces witnessed the killing of five children in a secondary school during demonstrations.
Though the report was intended to cover only last year, some instances from this year were also included due to the gravity of the incidents.
Though there was no evidence of government forces formally enlisting children under the age of 18, they had used children as young as 8 years as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel for military raids, the report stated.
During the interviews carried out by the U.N., most child victims of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and, in one recorded case, subjected to electrical shock to the genitals.
One witness said that he had seen a young boy of approximately 15 years of age succumbing to repeated beatings. Reportedly, children were detained and tortured because their siblings or parents were assumed to be members of the opposition, or they themselves were suspected of being associated with rebels.
The report also accused the Syrian rebels of recruiting children despite having a policy of not recruiting any child under the age of 17.
Schools, on several instances, were used as military staging grounds, temporary bases, detention and interrogation centers and sniper posts.
The report also examined rights violations committed against children in the combat zones in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Myanmar, Nepal, Palestine and Somalia.
In Afghanistan, children were recruited and used by militant groups to conduct suicide attacks and plant improvised explosive devices as well as for transporting goods, mainly by the Taliban forces. In 2011, 11 children, including an 8-year-old girl, were killed while they were conducting suicide attacks. Some children unknowingly carried explosive packages.
The armed clashes by CPJR, UFDR and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), predominantly in the north-east and south-east of Central African Republic, resulted in the killings of scores of civilians, including 88 children, in 2011.
Recorded instances of sexual violence against children in Congo were perpetrated by government security forces. A total of 108 cases of rape (including three cases against boys) were documented in the U.N. report.
In Iraq, extremist groups like al-Qaida and the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) recruited for insurgent activities. As many as 294 children were indicted or convicted of terrorism-related charges last year while at least 146 children were reportedly killed and 265 injured as a result of the continued unrest.
A number of grave violations against children went unrecorded in Libya last year owing to fighting and lack of access to the affected people. As a result, only a total of 129 cases of killing and 247 cases of maiming of children were reported.
Somalia also fared very badly in its human rights record with as many as 948 recorded instances of child recruitment, mostly by the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. Over 7,500 child casualties of conflict were registered in the three main hospitals in Mogadishu. The main cause of death among children below the age of 5 were burns, chest injuries and internal hemorrhage caused by blasts, shrapnel and bullets.