The world is failing the children of Syria who face a "shockingly grave" plight as the conflict rages on and their right to live in peace is threatened, a British watchdog said on Monday.
"Syria: A war on Childhood" by the London-based organisation War Child accuses both Syrian government forces and the opposition of failing to protect children during the deadly 16 months of conflict.
"Syrian parties to conflict are guilty of war crimes," says the report, noting that the situation of children in the unrest-hit country is "shockingly grave."
"The treatment of children has been undeniably callous. Children and young people have been summarily massacred; illegally detained; sexual abused; used in combat; abducted and tortured, denied schooling and access to humanitarian aid; and deliberately targeted in violent attacks."
In a foreword, chief executive Rob Williams said: "By the time we see the end of the conflict in Syria it will be clear that children have paid a heavy price for the right to live in peace, go to school, and feel safe in their homes and communities."
He charged that forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime "and the militias it sponsors have shot, detained, tortured and sexually abused children throughout... since the uprising began."
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And likewise "opposition forces also stand charged with including children in their ranks, and failing to properly protect children when engaging in hostilities in civilian areas," he said.
The report criticises the "lack of unity at the international level" and charges that the number of children killed in the conflict "increased significantly" since a UN-backed peace plan was approved for Syria.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that more than 19,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in mid-March 2011 when Syrians first took to the streets to protest against the regime.
It is unclear how many of those are children but a total of more than 8,000 people have reportedly been killed since the plan brokered by peace envoy Kofi Annan technically went into effect in mid-April.
Human rights groups estimate that about 1,200 children have died in 15 months of conflict and UNICEF, the UN's children's fund, said in February that hundreds of children have been detained with reports of torture and sexual abuse.
"We are failing Syria’s children. We must not continue to fail them in the future," said Williams.