GENEVA At least 384 children have been killed during Syria's 10-month uprising and virtually the same number have been jailed, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told Reuters the figures were based on reports by human rights organizations which it judged to be credible.
"As of January 7, 384 children have been killed, most are boys. Some 380 children have been detained, some less than 14 years old," Rima Salah, acting UNICEF deputy executive director, told reporters in Geneva.
The agency receives information from human rights groups who review doctors and hospital reports, interview families of victims and gather witness testimony, Mercado said.
The previous death toll for children was 307, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said on December 2, denouncing what she called "ruthless repression" by Syrian forces.
In mid-December, the overall death toll stood at more than 5,000, including soldiers and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, according to a U.N. figure compiled after cross-checking information from various groups.
But since then accurate reports have become more difficult to obtain, especially with parts of the town of Homs sealed off and with violence spreading, Pillay's spokesman said on Friday.
"It has gotten too difficult now to do sufficient verification to come up with a new estimate. We don't doubt for a second that many more people are being killed, but we're not really in a position to quantify it anymore," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters.
Fighting erupted in Homs on Friday, a day after townspeople said Alawite militiamen killed 14 members of a Sunni Muslim family in one of Syria's worst sectarian attacks since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad flared in March.
UNICEF is concerned about the situation in Syria, which has a legal obligation to protect children and uphold their rights, Salah said, adding that the agency is in talks with authorities.
"When there are conflicts, it has a very, very negative impact on children. We know that children are in detention. As the President of Syria himself said, 50 percent of children do not go to school now.
"So we are working with the government of Syria and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent also to see how we can rehabilitate schools and send those children to school," she said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Myra MacDonald)