At least 652 children were killed in Syria in 2016, making it the worst year yet for the country’s rising generation, the United Nations’ child relief agency said Monday.
There was no letup to attacks on schools, hospitals, playgrounds, parks and homes last year as the Syrian government, its opponents and the allies of both sides showed callous disregard for the laws of war.
UNICEF said at least 255 children were killed in or near schools last year and 1.7 million youngsters are out of school.
One of every three schools in Syria is unusable, some because armed groups occupy them.
An additional 2.3 million Syrian children are refugees elsewhere in the Middle East.
The figures come in a UNICEF report released two days before the sixth anniversary of the popular uprising that escalated into civil war.
Children were among the first victims of the government’s brutal crackdown.
The number is double that of 2015, the report states. Those recruited increasingly found themselves on the frontline or, in extreme cases, used as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards.
“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and North Africa speaking from Homs, Syria.
“Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down.”
Six years ago this week, the first protests against Bashar al-Assad’s rule began in Syria. The protests led to a violent crackdown and then civil war.
On Monday, the UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the death toll from the conflict had topped 320,000.
The first protests were held to demand the release of teenage students held, then tortured, for writing anti-government graffiti.
Since then, the toll on children has only increased, aid agencies say.
Mr Cappelaere added: “Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being, and future.”
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Last week, Save the Children warned millions of Syrian children could be living in a state of “toxic stress”, which the charity feared may become irreversible without immediate help.
It also found two-thirds of children had either lost a loved one, had their house bombed or shelled, or been injured as a result of the war.
On March 15, 2011, residents in the southern city of Daraa marched to demand the release of teenage students arrested for writing anti-government slogans on their school’s walls.
They were tortured in detention.
The report warns that coping mechanisms and medical care are eroding quickly in Syria, driving children into child labor, early marriage and combat. Dozens are dying from preventable diseases.
A report released a week ago by the international charity Save the Children said Syrian youngsters are showing signs of “toxic stress” that can lead to lifelong health problems, struggles with addiction and mental disorders lasting into adulthood.
The use of child soldiers is on the rise in Syria, UNICEF said.
At least 851 children were recruited by armed factions last year, more than twice compared to the year before.
Children across the country are at risk of severe injury while playing around land mines and cluster munitions. Demining operations in opposition-held areas have been severely hampered by inaccessibility to outside experts.