JUBA, South Sudan – Six African nations are among the 10 worst in the world to be a child in a war zone, a new report says.
The Save the Children report released Thursday looks at factors including attacks on schools, child soldier recruitment, sexual violations, killings and lack of humanitarian access and is based on analysis by the Norway-based Peace Research Institute Oslo.
Syria tops the list followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Iraq, Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic.
Almost 360 million children worldwide, or one in six, live in affected areas, the report says. In addition, conflicts are grinding on longer than before.
"Crimes involving children are not lesser crimes and need to be pursued with the same vigor that we expect when war crimes are committed," said Tirana Hassan, crisis response director with Amnesty International. "Concern and outrage are not enough."
The new report comes just ahead of the Munich Security Conference, which brings together global leaders to discuss security policy.
Children living in conflict-torn countries like South Sudan, where civil war has entered its fifth year, say they're traumatized.
"When you expose children to bad things like killing and death it's very bad for the child," one former child soldier named Roda told The Associated Press in the town of Yambio last week. The AP is using only her first name to protect her identity.
Three years ago, at age 14, she said she was abducted from school and forced to fight for the opposition. She spent the next three years praying she'd stay alive. Although she was one of over 300 child soldiers released this month, she said she still has nightmares of being recaptured.
More than 19,000 children have been recruited to armed groups since South Sudan's war erupted in 2013 and over 2,300 children have been killed or injured, according to UNICEF.
Rights groups say children in South Sudan have lost their innocence.
The government said it doesn't mean to make life "uncomfortable for the children" and that others share the blame.
"It's the responsibility of the international community and (the United Nations mission in South Sudan)," government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told the AP. He blamed the U.N.'s protection of civilian sites, where more than 200,000 civilians shelter, for "aggravating the children's situation" by having them live in harsh conditions.
The U.N. has said it is committed to protecting children and that the ongoing fighting has severely affected them.
Save the Children is calling on world leaders to do more to hold perpetrators to account.
"Crimes like this against children are the darkest kind of abuse imaginable and are a flagrant violation of international law," said Carolyn Miles, the aid group's president and CEO.