Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have detained and tortured children as young as 13 with impunity, opened fire on them and used schools as detentions centers of military barracks, Human Rights Watch reported on Friday.
“Children have not been spared the horror of Syria’s crackdown. Syrian security forces have killed, arrested, and tortured children in their homes, their schools, or on the streets. In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults,” said Lois Whitman, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
A 17-year-old girl from Tal Kalakh, was quoted by the rights group as saying that in May 2011, security forces entered her school and arrested all the boys in her class, after questioning them about the anti-regime slogans painted on the school walls.
“About four [officers] jumped over the walls, and the rest came through the main gate. They hit [the boys] with their hands and cursed them. I left school three days after that. I don’t know if [the boys] ever came back,” said Nazih (not her real name).
The rights groups reported that children as young as 13 were “held in solitary confinement, severely beaten and electrocuted, burned them with cigarettes, and left to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time, centimeters above the floor.”
16-year-old boy, Ala’a, from Tal Kalakh, said he was detained eight months, starting in May 2011, after he took part and read poetry in demonstration. “He was released in late January 2012 after his father bribed a prison guard with 25,000 ($436) Syrian pounds, the rights group reported.
Hossam, 13, said that security forces detained him and a relative, also 13, in May 2011 and tortured him for three days at a military security branch about 45 minutes by car from Tal Kalakh.
“Every so often they would open our cell door and yell at us and beat us. They said, ‘You pigs, you want freedom?’ They interrogated me by myself. They asked, ‘Who is your god?’ And I said, ‘Allah.’ Then they electrocuted me on my stomach, with a prod. I fell unconscious,” he said.
“It’s clear from the brutal methods used against children that Syrian security forces show child detainees no mercy,” said Whitman. “We fear that children will continue to face horrendous punishment in detention until Syrian officials understand they will pay a price for such abuse.”
Two children told the rights group that they were shot while they were inside their homes in Quseir.
Youssef, 11, said, “I came back to my house at 12:30 p.m. – we closed the shop where I work because we knew there would be an attack. Around 2 p.m. they started shelling the hospital near my house, the national hospital, which is about 500 meters from the house. Then they started to hit the baladiye [municipality] building, about 1 km away. I was inside the house, my brother and all my siblings were with me. I heard shooting and felt pain in my back. Then I fell unconscious.”
Fatima, 17, said: “It was about 10:30 at night. I was going to the bathroom when I heard gunfire. There were shots from all directions. We live in a traditional house [where the bathroom is outside], there are no high walls. Suddenly, I found myself on the floor, I just felt that I was on the floor but I couldn’t feel anything.”
Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that: “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child … shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Syria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993.