A record number of children were killed in Syria last year, more than a third of them in or near a school, the UN children’s agency says ahead of the sixth anniversary of the war.
More than 850 children were also recruited to fight – more than double the number in 2015 – with some used as executioners and suicide bombers, UNICEF said on Monday.
“The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis,” the agency’s regional director Geert Cappelaere said in a statement from Homs in Syria.
“Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”
At least 652 children were killed last year, up by 20 per cent from 2015, the agency said.
The figures – collected since 2014 – only represent formally verified casualties, meaning the true toll could be higher.
UNICEF also said there were at least 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel last year.
Half of Syria’s pre-war population has been uprooted in the conflict whose six-year anniversary falls on March 15.
Around 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria and nearly 5 million have sought shelter in neighbouring countries where conditions are getting increasingly desperate.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said nearly one million were trapped in besieged areas inside Syria with almost no aid.
It said siege and starvation continued to be used as weapons of war and called for an immediate end to all obstacles preventing civilians accessing aid.
UNICEF said many children were also dying from preventable diseases with the fighting making it difficult to access medical care and lifesaving supplies.
The agency added that Syrian families across the region were taking extreme measures to survive, often forcing children out of the classroom and into early marriage and child labour.