Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday said thousands of children have been detained and held without charges for months and even years in conflict zones where governments often treat children as national security threats.

The rights watchdog has called on countries to immediately stop detaining children without charges and seeks accountability in cases where minors have been ill treated, tortured or even killed while in detention.

The report found that children were detained in massive security sweeps, on baseless suspicions and for their family members’ alleged ties to terrorism.

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Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at HRW, said the arrests are often made in the context of counter-terrorism measures in areas where violent extremism is on the rise.

“These practices are not only illegal, they are counterproductive.

“If governments are concerned about children joining extremist groups, then detaining them and subjecting them to torture and ill treatment is only going to increase any sense of alienation that they feel,’’ Becker said.

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In Syria, no fewer than 1,400 children have been detained since the conflict began in 2011, including boys as young as 8 years old.

Syrian authorities have documented the release of 436 of them.

“The status of the rest of the children remains unknown,’’ the report said.

In Israel, 500 to 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted in military courts each year for offenses such as throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
In 2015, an average of 220 Palestinian children was held in custody each month.

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The report found that the U.S. during its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq also detained thousands of children, including 2,400 minors in Iraq alone.

No fewer than 15 children were held at Guantanamo Bay for time periods ranging from months to 10 years.

The report also warned that children were especially vulnerable to torture and ill treatment while in detention.

The report said for example, in Afghanistan, detained children were more likely to be tortured than adults. (dpa/NAN)