UN verifies more than 7,000 child casualties in Syria since 2013
Numbers revealed as Syrian government celebrates recapture of town near Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
The United Nations has verified that more than 7,000 children have lost their lives or been injured in the Syrian conflict since 2013 — and cites unverified reports putting the number "way beyond 20,000," a UN envoy said Friday.
Virginia Gamba, the special representative for children in conflict, told the Security Council that since the beginning of 2018, the UN has verified over 1,200 violations against children.
These include more than 600 children killed or maimed and over 180 recruited or used by government forces or armed groups, she said.
"Children continue to be disproportionately affected by the armed conflict in Syria," Gamba said. "The violence Syrian children have been subjected to — and still are — as well as the pain they and their families have faced throughout these years of 'crisis' is simply unacceptable."
Compared to the last quarter of 2017, Gamba said the first quarter of 2018 saw a 348 per cent increase in killing and maiming of children, a 25 per cent increase in recruitment and military use of children, and a 109 per cent increase in overall grave violations against youngsters.
"The indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks by all parties, of which the latest tally is 88, including the use of weapons prohibited under international law, aerial attacks, mortars and rockets, indiscriminate shelling and improvised explosive devices, have been used against civilian areas and civilian infrastructures and have had a deadly toll on children," she said.
Gamba said reports attribute most killings and injuries in 2018 to Syrian government and pro-government forces, and all recruitment and military use of children to armed groups.
Although figures for the beginning of 2018 include few verified cases of sexual violence and abduction, Gamba said these violations have been reported since 2013. As examples, she cited sexual abuse and exploitation of boys and girls, the sale of children as sexual slaves, rape as a means of torture, and forcible marriage to fighters from the Islamic State extremist group.
Gamba said the detention of children for alleged association with armed forces and groups "has exponentially increased."
In 2018 alone, she said over 1,300 children are reportedly being held by parties in northeastern Syria though the UN has only been able to verify seven cases because of inaccessibility to the area. Since 2014, she said the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism authorized by the Security Council has verified more than 350 cases of detention.
Gamba urged the Security Council to put pressure on all combatants in Syria to immediately take action to prevent child casualties including by halting indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, ensure that detained children are treated "primarily as victims," and comply with international law.
Syrian children "have been used and abused by, in and for armed conflict for far too long," she said.
On Friday, Syrian officials celebrated the recapture of this symbolic southern town near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, raising a flag and playing the national anthem to mark the victory over the armed groups that controlled it for more than four years.
A picture of President Bashar al-Assad was hoisted on a partially destroyed monument in central Quneitra, where his father had raised the Syrian flag after Israel withdrew more than four decades ago.
Friday's ceremony was attended by hundreds of flag-waving residents from nearby villages, who sang the anthem, danced and cheered the Syrian army and affiliated militias.
Quneitra was abandoned after Israel destroyed it as its forces withdrew in 1974 following the Mideast war, although Israel continued to occupy the adjacent Golan Heights, seized in 1967. A ceasefire and a disengagement agreement have largely held along the demarcation lines for four decades.
During Syria's civil war, armed groups captured the town and large parts of southwestern Syria, forcing a UN peacekeeping force there to evacuate.