DAMASCUS - Being tortured, raped and killed, children are taking the full brunt of two years of deadly fighting between President Bashar Al-Assad's security forces and opposition troops.
"This is a war where women and children are the biggest casualty," Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children charity, told Reuters on Wednesday, March 13.
A report by the London-based group said children are taking the full brunt of the ongoing armed conflict in Syria.
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It said two million children in Syria face malnutrition, disease, torture and sexual assault in the war-torn country.
Forsyth cited the case of a 12-year-old refugee child, who saw his best friend killed outside a bakery.
"His friend was shot through the heart, he said.
But initially, he thought he was joking because there was no blood. They didn't realize he had been killed until they took his shirt off.
The Save the Children report cited new research carried out among refugee children by Bahcesehir University in Turkey, which found that one in three reported having been punched, kicked or shot at.
It said two thirds of children surveyed said that they had been separated from members of their families due to the conflict.
A third of respondents said they had experienced the death of a close friend or family member.
"All these children tell you these stories in a matter of fact way and then you realize that there are layers and layers of emotional trauma there," said Forsyth.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in two years of between Assad's security forces and opposition forces.
The fighting has forced more than one million Syrians to flee their home to neighboring countries in addition to the displacement of two millions others inside the country.
The report said that scores of children were also sent to jail as part of the raging conflict in Syria.
"He was taken out every day and put in a giant wheel and burnt with cigarettes, Forsyth said of a child, who was in a prison cell with 150 people, including 50 children.
He was 15. The trauma that gives a child is devastating."
Save the Children says that some young boys are also being used by armed groups as porters, runners and human shields, bringing them close to the front line.
The report also warned that rape is being used as a tool to punish Syrians.
"In most conflicts, over 50 percent of rapes are against children. And I am sure that is the case in this conflict too, Forsyth said.
The report said fear of sexual violence is one of the main reasons for Syrian families to flee their homes.
It said that there are also reports of early marriage of young girls by families trying to reduce the numbers of mouths they have to feed, or hoping that a husband will be able to provide greater security from the threat of sexual violence.
Forsyth said that he met a Syrian family in Lebanon who told their 16-year-old daughter to marry an older man.
"Her mother said she is beautiful and every time the (Syrian) soldiers came to the house she thought: 'They are going to rape her.'""Rape is being used deliberately to punish people," he said, adding that girls as young as 14 are being married off.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net