UNICEF: 2016 was 'worst year yet' for children in Syria

At least 652 children were killed last year, while more than 850 were recruited to fight in the conflict

UNICEF: 2016 was 'worst year yet' for children in Syria

Syrian children who were displaced with their family from eastern Aleppo play in the village of Jibreen south of Aleppo, Syria. Picture by: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

The UN children's agency UNICEF has described 2016 as the 'worst year yet' for children in Syria's ongoing war.

In a report being released to coincide with the conflict's 6th anniversary this week, the UN agency says there was a 'drastic escalation' in the verified cases of killing, maiming and recruitment of children last year.

At least 652 children were killed last year - a 20% increase compared to the previous year. The numbers include 255 killed in or near a school.

More than 850 children, meanwhile are reported to have been recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the 2015 figure.

Other concerns raised by UNICEF include increasing child labour and early marriage as families struggle to survive. 

Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “The depth of suffering is unprecedented. Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down.

"Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”

Peter Power, UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director, added: "During the six years of conflict I have travelled to the region many times, meeting hundreds of children affected by violence. All of them are desperate for peace, desperate for education, desperate for a future.

"One day they will hopefully celebrate the end of war, but they will then face the most difficult task imaginable, rebuilding their nation from ruins."

The organisation is calling for an 'immediate political solution' to end the conflict, as well as an end to 'grave violations' against children and support for refugee host countries & communities.

The civil war in Syria is believed to have led to more than 300,000 deaths since 2011. Millions of others have been forced to flee from their homes.

The Save the Children charity last week warned that Syrian children are experiencing 'toxic stress' and 'deep psychological scars' as a result of the conflict.