The United Nations has published a report revealing the extent of child abuse occurring in Syria from both opposition and government forces, allegations that the Syrian government have denied, insisting that solely opposition forces were guilty of such crimes. Specifically, the use of child soldiers, the death and injury of many during conflicts, and sexual abuse and violence were listed in the report.
The information for the report was gathered over the course of three years, between March 1, 2011 and November 15, 2013, though difficulty in gathering information was noted due to a “lack of access.” It was published in the wake of a difficult Geneva II Syrian peace conference, which ended Friday. “I sincerely hope that the second round of negotiations will begin as planned on 10 February,” said the United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, expressing his hope that both Syrian delegations would attend the second round as agreed upon and go into them “with greater seriousness and urgency.”
The report names a long list of Syrian militant groups and organizations both within and outside government militia as violators of human rights in regards to children’s involvement and victimization throughout the conflict. Included in this list are the Syrian Armed Forces, forces associated with the government, but not directly related, such as Shabiha, the Free Syrian Army, the National Defense Forces, Syrian Kurdish armed groups, and many others.
A major problem associated specifically with Free Syrian Army (or, FSA) and Syrian Kurdish armed groups was the recruitment of children in the conflict. According to the report, boys between the ages of 12 and 17 were used by FSA for purposes ranging from combatants involved in attacks, to armed checkpoint guards — with an older male often involved in recruitment process. Both boys and girls were found to be used as “cooks, porters, cross-border smuggling of arms, lookouts, spies and messengers, as well as to clean weapons and prepare and load ammunition.
Cases were also document of boys and girls being used by FSA in cross border and cross-line medical evacuations for the delivery of medical supplies to field hospitals and to assist emergency and trauma health services, which put them at high risk,” it noted. The report also listed the Syrian Kurdish armed groups use of 14 to 17 year olds, both male and female, in military support and combat positions, with anecdotal examples for each.
Recruitment was of particular concern from refugee areas, with “lack of education or job opportunities and peer pressure were identified as key factors.” The government’s use of children was more difficult to list accuracy, however the forced conscription of young men, some under the age of 18, was listed, as was governmental use of children as human shields, especially during 2011 and 2012.
Subsequent to their use in combat and combat-related positions, children have been detained by government forces for participation, or simply suspected participation in the conflict. The locations and conditions these children have been kept in — sometimes for extended periods of time — are often reported to be not in keeping with international minimum standards. “Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture” were heavily listed, with beatings, rape, and a deluge of other cruelties said to be inflicted upon children obtained by government forces. Less information was possible to obtain on opposition forces treatment of pro-government children, however it was stated that accusations of similar treatment were made.
The report also listed there have been 100,000 deaths in Syria since March 2011, with 10,000 of those deaths children, also listing injuries from shelling, air strikes, bombing, crossfire, and the shooting of children involved in anti-government protests. Chemical weapon use was also listed as a cause of youth casualty and injury, as were opposition forces, with the Syrian Ministry of the Interior telling the United Nations that 130 children had been killed and 118 injured between November 10, 2011 and December 22, 2013 by the opposition.
The report went on to detail attacks made on schools and hospitals, the abduction of children, and the denial of much needed humanitarian aid. It also listed grave sexual violence, noting that much of these crimes are “underreported owing to fears of reprisals and social stigmatization.”
According to the UN News Centre, one 16-year-old boy gave witness to his 14 year old friend’s sexual assault and then subsequent death. “The 16-year-old said children and adults were beaten with metal bars, their fingernails pulled out, their fingers cut. ‘Or they were beaten with a hammer in the back, sometimes until death.’” The report also lists other assertions that both boys and girls have been raped.
“The suffering endured by the children in the Syrian Arab Republic since the outset of the conflict, as documented in this report, is unspeakable and unacceptable. Violations must come to an end now,” read the report at the front of a long list of final recommendations to the government, the opposition, and foreign parties.