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, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released Thursday.
The rights watchdog calls 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 are detained in massive security sweeps, on baseless suspicions and for their family members' alleged ties to terrorism.
The arrests are often made in the context of counterterrorism measures in areas where violent extremism is on the rise, said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
"These practices are not only illegal, they are counterproductive," Becker said.
"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," she said.
In Syria, at least 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 were held in custody each month.
The United States, during its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, also detained thousands of children, including 2,400 minors in Iraq alone, the report found. At least 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. For example, in Afghanistan, detained children were more likely to be tortured than adults, the report said.
UNICEF welcomed the report and urged governments to implement its recommendations.
"Children should be guaranteed the same legal rights and protection regardless of the charges they face, and be fully protected in the criminal justice system," said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF associate director for child protection.