UNICEF has called on governments to open up a dialogue with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, to convince it to allow the UN's children's agency to deliver aid in areas under the militants' control.
UNICEF's representative in Syria, Hanaa Singer, said that IS militants had so far refused to talk to the aid agency.
"At the same time, it's not the responsibility only of the humanitarian agencies. This is a political responsibility, and for the political parties to talk and put pressure on and start a dialogue with [the IS group]," Singer told journalists at a news conference in Geneva on March 13.
State parties should attempt negotiations with the IS group "at least to protect the children," Singer said.
Singer's comments came a day after UNICEF said that 14 million children had been impacted because of the conflict in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, up to 2 million children are living in areas cut off from humanitarian assistance due to fighting or other factors, according to UNICEF, though the aid agency did not blame any particular group for the fighting.
UNICEF's remarks also come amid increasing evidence that the IS group is actively recruiting and using Syrian, Iraqi, and foreign children as militants in Syria and Iraq.
A UN report released in February warned that the IS group was using children in Iraq as suicide bombers, abducting them and selling them as sex slaves, and deploying them as human shields.
The militant group is especially targeting vulnerable children, including those with disabilities and refugee children.
In one case, militants gave an explosive vest to a 16-year-old boy from the IS-controlled town of Manbij in Syria and drove him to carry out an attack at a Shi'ite congregation hall in Baghdad. The teenager, Aseed al-Barho, handed himself over to security guards. RFE/RL learned that the boy had been recruited by IS after militants took him to take part in military training courses.
Training Child Soldiers, Executioners
While the extent of Islamic State's military training of children is not known, there is ample evidence that the extremist group is undertaking such training in a systematic and organized manner.
Two recent propaganda videos featured young children -- one group from Kazakhstan and another group apparently from Raqqa -- undertaking military-style drills.
The IS group has also openly used children to carry out execution-style killings.
A shocking video released this week appeared to show a young child shooting a man accused by IS militants of being an Israeli agent. The child and an adult militant who appears in the video with him have been identified as French citizens.
Another child militant, who looked like one of the ethnic Kazakh children featured in an earlier training video, was shown appearing to kill two men in an IS video released in January.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk