(NEW YORK) -- A new study on how the Syrian conflict affects children faults both sides for exploiting the most innocent victims of the three-year-long civil war. While estimates of war dead vary, the United Nations report claims that 10,000 children have died as a result of fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's government forces and opposition fighters.
The U.N. accuses Assad's regime of sexually assaulting children while they're kept in government detention, a charge denied by Damascus. Furthermore, there are allegations that youngsters are regularly tortured and often used as human shields.
Opposition forces aren't off the hook either, according to the U.N. report. They're blamed for recruiting boys for military and support roles. While the Free Syrian Army says that no one under 18 can join their units, the groups can't speak for other rebel militias. Responding to the study, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Wednesday, "We strongly condemn the mistreatment and torture of children in any conflict -- while there've been too many tragic stories coming from Syria throughout the conflict, the impact on the youngest victims is the most disturbing and must stop."
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