Reports of atrocities committed against children in Syria, particularly by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, are on the rise, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos has warned.
In a UN Security Council briefing on Syria on December 15, Amos said that reports of "children killed or publicly executed, crucified, beheaded, and stoned to death, particularly by [IS], have increased in recent months."
The activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported in October that Islamic State militants in Raqqa had crucified a 17-year-old boy for three days after accusing him of filming the group's headquarters. Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently posted a photograph of the boy strapped to a cross in a public square, with a sign around his neck accusing him of receiving 500 Turkish lira for every video. The sign also accuses the boy of apostasy.
Children Forced To Watch Executions
As well as executing children, Islamic State militants have also forced children in areas under its control to view public executions, including beheadings and crucifixions, as well as public punishments such as amputations.
The group regularly publishes images of its public executions, in which children are clearly visible in the crowds of onlookers.
A UN report from August said that IS had publicly crucified children under the age of 18 for various "crimes" including violating Islamic State criminal code. CNN spoke to a 13-year-old boy who said he had attended an Islamic State training camp in northern Syria, where he witnessed crucifixions and saw a woman stoned to death for adultery.
Amos noted that the UN has also seen a trend of children in Syria undergoing military training and receiving weapons.
"Reports have been received of 350 children, some as young as five years old, being trained for combat in a military camp in Raqqa [the IS group's de facto capital in Syria]," Amos said.
There have been several reports of child training camps in Raqqa. In September, a report circulated on social media showing a young boy clad in a black balaclava and holding a knife and a doll dressed in a bright orange robe. The image was reportedly taken from an IS Raqqa summer camp in which IS militants taught young children how to behead "blonde, blue-eyed dolls."
In November, Islamic State militants released a video showing Kazakh children receiving military training and ideological indoctrination in Syria. The video, Race Toward Good, has been banned in Kazakhstan.
RFE/RL has also found evidence that Syrian children as young as 15 are fighting alongside Chechen Islamic State militants in Syria, including Kobani.
Amos said that reports of sexual and gender violence -- particularly, but not exclusively, perpetrated by IS militants -- have also increased since the summer.
"Recently, Kurdish refugees from Kobani reported the capture of young girls by ISIL [aka IS] for sexual purposes. Girls as young as twelve," Amos said. "Reports of early and forced marriage are also on the rise. This is in part due to a depletion of family resources, and more recently because parents are terrified of their unmarried daughters being forced to marry [Islamic State] fighters in areas under their control," Amos said.
Amos noted that Islamic State gunmen have captured women as slaves and sold them in markets in Raqqa.
"Some are sold to individual men, others are kept by ISIL in rest houses and face multiple rapes by fighters returning from the battlefield," the UN Underssecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs said.
Around 5,000 women and girls from the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority have been kidnapped by IS militants, who apparently sell them as sex slaves. In a report in October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted the testimony of several Yazidi girls and women who said they had been systematically separated from their families, held captive, and then bought and sold by IS militants who subjected them to sexual attacks.
As well as noting some of the atrocities carried out by Islamic State militants and directed against children, Amos also criticized the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and armed opposition forces. Opposition groups had prevented medical supplies from reaching besieged communities in the Shi'ite villages of Nubl and Zahra in Aleppo province, while the government is withholding medicines and supplies from UN convoys, Amos said. Syrian schools have also come under attack, with over 105 children killed in the last nine months.