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Protect the most innocent in Syria – children

The largely ignored civil war in Syria has taken a big toll on children. They are often targeted, even tortured. Russia and China must not again block an effective UN response to the Assad regime's war crimes.

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A book is left on the ground at a Syrian school destroyed in a government airstrike in Tel Rifaat, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Sept. 16. Many schools have been destroyed or are home to refugees. Some parents are too afraid to send their children to school over fears of violence.

AP Photo

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 The raw numbers alone can be numbing. Over the past 18 months, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists. On Wednesday, however, the world’s attention was focused on a special group of Syrians who are not only innocent victims of this brutal civil war but also purposely targeted: children.

At a Security Council meeting, the United Nations special representative on children in conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said children in Syria are facing a “dire” situation. They are often tortured or sexually abused. Their schools are attacked or used for fighting. She also cited reports of the opposition Free Syrian Army using children in its forces.

Her comments come after an official report in August to the UN Human Rights Council that found the Assad government responsible for 49 children killed last May in a massacre in the village of Houla. The report lays the groundwork for possible prosecution of Syrian leaders in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Private groups, too, are tallying the toll. Anti-Assad Syrian groups claim close to 2,000 children have died in the conflict so far. In July, a British-based group called War Child said the Syrian conflict is “disturbingly unique” in the deliberate targeting of children, citing reports of hundreds of children being detained by the regime.

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