UNITED NATIONS The United Nations has included Syria for the first time in its "list of shame" of countries that kill, recruit or sexually assault children during armed conflicts.
The latest version of what the United Nations has dubbed the "list of shame," which was published on Monday, contains 52 countries, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
In April, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon circulated to U.N. member states his annual report on children and armed conflict. In that report, he highlighted the plight of children in Syria, where the world body says a 15-month conflict has killed over 10,000 people.
"Children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, and use as human shields," Ban said in his report. "Schools have been regularly raided and used as military bases and detention centers."
"In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by Government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the Shabbiha militia, in their ongoing conflict with the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army," Ban said.
The report said the United Nations had received credible allegations of recruitment and use of children by the Syrian opposition, although the Free Syrian Army has a stated policy of not recruiting any child under 17 years of age.
Many of the victims of recent massacres in the Syrian towns of Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir were children, U.N. monitors in the country have said.
"It's clearly a very disturbing finding in the report," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters on Tuesday. "But it is just yet another chapter in the barbarity that is being imposed by the Syrian regime on its own civilian population."
This is the first time since the annual report was first published in 1996 that Syria has been included.
Ban's report also described another worrying trend - the increasing use of girls and boys as suicide bombers. In 2011 alone, the report said, at least 11 children in Afghanistan and another 11 girls and boys in Pakistan were killed while conducting suicide attacks, some as young as 8 years old.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Beech)