The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] reported Tuesday that the nearly 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths and injuries of hundreds of children [press release]. In particular, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said that, "[a]s of the end of January, 400 children are dead and more than 400 have been detained." Mercado added that UNICEF has also received reports of arbitrary child arrests, torture and sexual abuse while in detention. Although she did not reveal the source of the reports, Mercado declared that the figures came from Syrian human rights groups "that we find to be credible." She also said that reporting by international media inside the city of Homs has contributed to UNICEF's awareness. Specifically, some reports indicated that Syrian troops have increased their assault on Homs by using artillery and shelling against civilians as part of their broader plan to quash a public pro-democracy movement that began last year. UNICEF believes that the shelling of civilian neighborhoods is undoubtedly causing further suffering for children [UN News Centre report]. "This must stop," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Even one child killed in the violence is one child too many." UNICEF does not currently have access to the affected areas of Homs, but has urged Syrian authorities to allow help to those who need it.
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] Syria's army and security officers of engaging in the torture of children [press release]. The allegations stemmed from HRW's documentation of cases in which children were reportedly detained, tortured, and shot in their homes, as well as prior findings that the Syrian government has been involved in torturing and killing civilian protesters. HRW has subsequently urged the UN Security Council [official website] to take action and pressure the Syrian government to end the inhumane violence against children still allegedly occurring in homes, streets, and schools. Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] demanded [JURIST report] Syria's president Bashar al-Assad [BBC backgrounder] to end the violence against its citizens and strive to establish democracy. Ban previously condemned [JURIST report] Syrian government leaders and violent protesters in December for the continuous bloodshed within the country. The violence in Syria has also been decried by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee and the Arab League [JURIST reports]. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] has reported [UN report] that more than 5,000 people have died since the anti-government protests in Syria began last March.