Children enduring the war in Syria have suffered terrible abuses, with the government and allied militia responsible for many killings, maiming and torture, according to a grim UN report.
Rebels have also recruited youngsters as soldiers and used terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the UN's first report on this area of the conflict that was released to the Security Council on Tuesday.
It detailed gruesome incidents of torture including children being raped or beaten with metal cables, suffering electric shocks to the genitals and having their fingernails ripped out.
"Violations must come to an end now," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in the report.
"I therefore urge all parties to the conflict to take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria."
The report covered the period from March 1, 2011 to November 15 last year in a conflict that has now left more than 135,000 people dead.
It details a series of abuses Syrian children have suffered since the opposition rose up to try to depose President Bashar al-Assad.
They range from direct commission of abuse, including sexual violence, to more general violation of their rights, from school closures and denial of access to humanitarian aid, the UN website said, quoting from the report.
"The present report highlights that use of weaponry and military tactics that are disproportionate and indiscriminate by Government forces and associated militias has resulted in countless killings and the maiming of children, and has obstructed children’s access to education and health services," Ban wrote.
"Government forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children," he added.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
"Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children."
The report highlights the disappearance of many children and says all parties to the war have seriously hampered delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas most affected by the fighting.
Ill-treatment and torture
It also warned that children have experienced a high level of distress by witnessing the killing and injuring of members of their families and peers, or of being separated from their family and/or displaced.
The report details the detention of children as young as 11 for alleged association with armed groups by government forces in large-scale arrest campaigns.
It says youngsters were ill-treated and tortured to extract confessions or humiliate them, or pressure a relative to surrender or confess.
"Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shock, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives," the report said.
"Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten."
The report cites a 16-year-old boy as saying he witnessed a 14-year-old male friend being sexually assaulted and then killed. It notes other allegations that boys and in a few instances girls were raped.
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," he added.
Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access, the report says.