Protect Syria’s suffering children

Syria’s civil war has taken an “unspeakable” toll on the nation’s children since it began in March 2011, with an estimated 10,000 dead and many more injured or missing, and both sides have committed “grave violations against children,” asserts a new U.N. report published last week.

The international community must step up its efforts to bring the fighting to an end, and pressure the warring sides to heed U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s call for them to “take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria.”

Covering the period from March 1, 2011, to Nov. 15, 2013, the U.N. investigation is the first to assess the impact of the nearly three-year old conflict on Syria’s children. Its findings are grim.

The report states that the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of weapons and tactics by government forces and allied militias have been responsible for the maiming and killing of countless children. Government forces have also arrested, arbitrarily detained, ill-treated and tortured children as young as 11 years old in detention facilities because of their actual or perceived links with rebel groups. The ill treatment and “acts tantamount to torture” included beatings with metal bars and other weapons, electric shocks, the tearing out of fingernails and toenails, sexual violence, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation, exposure to the torture of relatives and solitary confinement.

While the U.N.’s investigation of armed opposition groups was hampered by a lack of security in rebel-controlled areas, it confirmed that they are recruiting children, including refugees in neighboring countries, for use in combat and support roles. They are also conducting military operations, including the use of “terror tactics” in areas populated by civilians, and have engaged in the summary execution of children. The U.N. also received allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups, but a lack of access prevented further investigation.

Japan, which has pledged $155 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, must continue to do all it can to improve Syria’s dire humanitarian situation, and throw its full support behind international efforts to bring the bloody civil war to an end.