Children were too often the victims of "unspeakable" crimes in many war-torn countries last year, in conflicts that conscripted kids to kill or subjected them to horrific acts of violence, sex crimes and torture, said a UN envoy who added that in many cases the criminals go unpunished.

"What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity," said Leila Zerrougui, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative on children and armed conflict. "If we are serious about protecting children, we must demand accountability."

She spoke to reporters in New York on Tuesday and released the annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, a digest of reports from hot spots across the globe in 23 "conflict situations" around the world where children are killed, maimed, tortured or subject to sexual violence.

Zerrougui said violence against children is targeted in some cases, but a consequence of indiscriminate violence on civilians in others.

"In some, it is targeted and in other situations it is the effect of the brutality of the violence," she said. "But of course when you have children who are targeted in schools as is happening in northern Nigeria, when children are killed on religion or ethnic lines, of course they are targeted."

She noted that in 2012, Syria was the most dangerous place on Earth for children but said that in 2013, the distinction can be spread across several others whose conflicts have causes many nations to deteriorate into perilous places for children.

"These crises are situations where children are bearing a very high price," she said.

The report lists cases of child recruitment by seven national armies and 50 armed groups fighting wars in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and 11 other countries. Of the 23 country situations, 17 are under consideration by the UN Security Council.

Zerrougui singled out for her talk South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories and Nigeria, where the Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped and is holding more than 200 school girls.

Boko Haram appears as a new entry to the secretary-general's list of perpetrators, which Zerrougui said was responsible for "unspeakable violence against children" in Nigeria, adding that the group kills and maims and also attacks schools and hospitals.

"The listing is part of the broader response of United Nations and the international community to tackle the violence by the group," she said.

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