UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Wednesday added Mali to its child soldier list of shame while it said that thousands of children have been killed in the Syrian civil war.
Mali, where Islamist groups took over the north of the country until a French-led intervention in January, was the only new country added to the blacklist released each year by the UN special representative for children in conflict.
Tuareg rebels, Al Qaeda Islamists and pro-government militias used hundreds of child soldiers in Mali, said special representative Leila Zerrougui.
Children make up more than half of Mali's population of 15.8 million and many have been abducted for armed groups and girls forced to become the wives of combatants, Zerrougui told a press conference.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Ansra Dine rebel groups were all named in the UN report.
"Sexual violence against girls by armed groups was reported to be widespread and systematic in northern Mali," said the report which highlighted hundreds of cases of rape, gang rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage since the uprising in March last year.
Chad's national army is on the UN list but is also being considered for the UN peacekeeping force scheduled to deploy in Mali in July. Zerrougui said, however, that Chad's government had made a "very strong commitment" to end the use of child soldiers.
Widespread use of child combatants and sexual violence had also been reported in Central African Republic. But Zerrougui said children in Syria, now into its third year of conflict, are suffering "maybe the heaviest toll" of anywhere in the world.
"They are killed, they are maimed, they are recruited, they are detained, they are tortured," said the UN representative.
Among the more than 80,000 people estimated to have been killed in Syria "many thousands are children," said the UN.
Thousands "have seen family members killed or injured or have lived through shelling, missile firing and heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of their homes, schools and hospitals by the government forces, resulting in severe psychological distress," said the report.
Sexual violence has been used by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against boys to obtain information or confessions, the special representative said.
Child detainees as young as 14 were given the same torture treatment as adults, "including electric shock, beatings, stress positions and threats and acts of sexual torture."
Nine government armies and 46 armed groups -- ranging from Somalia's national army to rebel groups in Myanmar and the Philippines -- are on the UN list for using children as soldiers or torturing and raping children.
Zerrougui said action plans to end the use of child soldiers had been launched with government forces and armed groups in Myanmar, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Thousands of children also had been released by armed groups in 2012. Nepal and Sri Lanka have been taken off the UN list