By The Numbers: Syria’s Crimes Against Its Children

A disturbing new UN report details the use of Syria’s children as underage fighters and human shields by both the government and rebel groups.

Molhem Barakat/Reuters

A new United Nations report (PDF) paints a picture of “unspeakable” suffering by Syria’s children, detailing recruitment of underage fighters, torture, and sexual violence against boys and girls enacted by both the Syrian Armed Forces and rebel groups. The findings also show that kids of all ages are being used by Western-backed armed opposition groups in support roles and in combat zones.

The killing of children in the Syrian civil war used to be mainly attributed to government forces, but in 2013, as rebel groups accessed heavier arms, more children have died at their hands. The report, encompassing research from March 2011 to November 2013, boasts some truly shocking numbers.

3 million: The number of children among 6.5 million internally displaced people. Meanwhile, 1.1 million Syrian children are refugees in neighboring countries. Disturbingly, both Free Syria Army-affiliated groups and the Syrian Kurdish rebels have reportedly been recruiting refugee children from neighboring countries, where displaced youth are languishing due to lack of education and job opportunities.

10,000: The number of children killed so far since the conflict began. Children have not only been victim of general warfare, but also targeted executions.

11: The youngest known age of the children being held in government detention centers and reportedly tortured into confessing an alliance with opposition groups or turning in relatives—with methods that include “beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, 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.”

130: The number of children killed by opposition forces, according to the Syrian government. The state forces are not known to formally recruit underage fighters, but reports say they have intimidated and seized teenage boys at checkpoints and during raids.

18: The minimum age the rebels’ Supreme Military Council claims fighters must be to join the Free Syrian Army.

14-17: The ages of boys and girls associated with the Syrian Kurdish armed groups in the city of Al Hassakeh.

8: The number of children reportedly used as human shields by government forces during a Ramadan offensive in 2011. Their fate is unknown. In other instances, Syrian Armed Forces reportedly took children from schools or arrested them for use as human shields.

20: Boys and girls between 10 and 12, taken from a village, used as shields, forced to sing pro-government songs, and then abducted and returned a week later to their homes in a state of shock and with physical signs of torture.

50: Children taken prisoner by opposition groups and held hostage with 150 adults in August 2013. Armed pro-government and opposition groups have reportedly abducted children to hold for ransom or trade for prisoners of war.

7 months: The age of a baby boy killed by a shot to the neck from a Syrian Air Force sniper in 2011.

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3,000: Schools destroyed as of October, according to the government.

43: Children injured and nine killed when a mortar hit a school bus outside a Damascus school in November. State forces have reportedly targeted schools they believe to be aligned with anti-government groups, arresting children and teachers, and attacking the buildings with artillery and sniper fire. Schools have also been turned into detention and weapon-storage centers, and teachers have reportedly been executed in front of students by radical groups.

2.26 million: Children out of school within Syria.