Syrian government forces and rebels are recruiting children to fight in the civil war and, in some cases, are using them as human shields, a Britain-based charity says.
“There is a growing pattern of armed groups on both sides of the conflict recruiting children younger than 18 as porters, guards, informers or fighters,” Save the Children says in a report.
“For many children and their families, this is seen as a source of pride. But some children are forcibly recruited into military activities, and in some cases children as young as 8 have been used as human shields,” says the report, titled “Children Under Fire.”
The U.N. has estimated that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began two years ago.
A new study by a research team at Bahcesehir University in Turkey found that three in every four Syrian children it interviewed had lost a loved one in the war. Children are being killed and maimed by indiscriminate bombing, and schools and hospitals have been attacked.
“For millions of Syrian children, the innocence of childhood has been replaced by the cruel realities of trying to survive this vicious war,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children.
Among the report’s key findings:
• Boys are being used by armed groups as porters, runners and human shields.
• Girls are being married off early to “protect” them from a widely perceived threat of sexual violence.
• Thousands of children are facing malnutrition.
• Millions of children have been forced from their homes, and tens of thousands are living in parks, barns and caves.