In Syria, last year was the worst yet for the country's rising generation, with at least 652 children killed in 2016, the United Nations' child relief agency said Monday, warning that the situation has hit "rock bottom." There was no letup to attacks on schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and homes as the Syrian government, its opponents, and allies of both sides showed callous disregard for the laws of war, the AP reports. UNICEF said at least 255 children were killed in or near schools last year, and 1.7 million youngsters are out of school. One of every three schools in Syria is unusable, some because armed groups occupy them. An additional 2.3 million Syrian children are refugees elsewhere in the Middle East.
The figures came in a UNICEF report released ahead of the sixth anniversary later this week of the 2011 popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule, which quickly escalated into full-blown civil war. The UNICEF report warns that for Syria's young generation, coping mechanisms and medical care are eroding quickly, driving children into child labor, early marriage, or combat. There were more than 850 confirmed cases of children being recruited as fighters. A report released a week ago by the international charity Save the Children said Syrian youngsters are showing signs of "toxic stress" that can lead to lifelong health problems, struggles with addiction, and mental disorders lasting into adulthood. (US Marines have joined the fight for Raqqa in eastern Syria.)