Children aged eight used as human shields in Syria
CHILDREN trapped inside Syria are being beaten, killed and sexually abused, a major study by a charity has found, with more than two million facing physical attacks, malnutrition and being used as human shields.
Collecting first-hand accounts from refugees, Save the Children found that one in three children had been punched, kicked or shot at, in many cases barely escaping with their lives.
Nidal (6) told the charity: "Once, armed men chased us. They shot at (the three of) us and it hit the ground near my foot so I jumped. It hit below my foot and it touched my shoe but I kept running.
"We reached a wall and couldn't run any more. I was scared, very scared. We were surrounded by walls."
As the conflict in Syria reaches its third year with more than 70,000 killed, children are becoming ever more drawn into the warfare. Some young boys are being used by armed groups as porters, runners and human shields, bringing them close to the frontline, while many girls are being married off early to protect them from a widely perceived threat of sexual violence.
The report, 'Children Under Fire', found a "growing pattern" of armed groups, both with and against the Syrian regime, recruiting children under 18 for the dangerous work of being guards or informers.
Save the Children cites cases of children as young as eight being used as human shields.
In the city of Aleppo, young boys were found living in rebel bases that were targets for enemy attack. Many cleaned weapons and provided food for the fighters. Others went on the frontline with little idea of how to fight.
"For millions of Syrian children, the innocence of childhood has been replaced by the cruel realities of trying to survive this vicious war," said Justin Forsyth, Save the Children's chief executive.
Citing interviews conducted by Bahcesehir University, the report finds that almost one in three children has been separated from family and that three in four children had seen the death of a loved one.
Yasmine (12) recalled the moment she watched her father die: "We had to stay in one room, all of us . . . I watched my father leave, and watched as my father was shot outside our home . . . I started to cry, I was so sad."
The scale of the trauma and physical displacement for children is such that the UN's children's agency UNICEF warned yesterday that Syria risks "losing a generation".
"We cannot afford to lose any more time. We risk creating a generation of children who have seen, or know, only fighting, and may well end up perpetuating that cycle of violence," said UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick.
The lines of fighting move almost daily, so families often do not know if the place they've settled in today will be safe tomorrow.
Most displaced families share overcrowded apartments and houses, but an estimated 80,000 are sleeping out in caves, parks or barns.
UNICEF said it so far had received only 20pc of the $195m (€150m) it had appealed for to help children and women affected by the crisis. (© Daily Telegraph, London)