More than 12,000 children were killed and injured in armed conflicts last year - a record number - with Afghanistan, the Palestinians, Syria and Yemen topping the casualty list, according to a new U.N. report.
The deaths and injuries were among more than 24,000 "grave violations'' against children verified by the United Nations including the recruitment and use of youngsters by combatants, sexual violence, abductions, and attacks on schools and hospitals, it said.
According to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres' annual report to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict obtained Monday by The Associated Press, violations by armed groups remained steady but there was "an alarming increase'' in the number of violations by government and international forces compared to 2017.
The secretary-general's eagerly awaited blacklist of countries that committed grave violations against children during conflicts remained virtually unchanged from last year, angering several human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, an international advocacy group, pointed to the Saudi-led coalition remaining on the list of parties that have put in place measures to protect children, citing a rise in child casualties by government and coalition forces in Yemen.
Afghanistan topped the list with 3,062 child casualties in 2018, "and children accounted for 28 percent of all civilian casualties,'' the report said, while in Syria, air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions killed and injured 1,854 youngsters "and in Yemen, 1,689 children bore the brunt of ground fighting and other offensives.''