Syria recorded the maximum number of child deaths in 2016 as compared to any other year since the war began in 2011, the United Nations have said. At least 652 children were killed in the region last year alone. The figure went up 20% in 2016, compared to 2015, BBC reported on Monday.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund said Syrian children “hit rock bottom” in 2016. The UN body said children were recruited at an ever younger age in 2016 to man checkpoints, use weapons and serve as prison guards. “The past year has been the worst since the crisis began, with children pushed right to the brink,” Juliette Touma, Unicef’s regional spokesperson, told The Guardian. “We also have reports of sexual abuse of girls by underage children, so it’s very grim.”

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Millions of children in Syria come under attack on a daily basis, their lives turned upside down.” According to their estimates, more than 850 children were recruited to fight in Syria in 2016.

The agency said that more than 70% of children interviewed by Save the Children showed symptoms of “toxic stress” or post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly 6 million children depend on humanitarian assistance, while around 3,00,000 children do not have access to assistance, noted the United Nations.

Unicef has urged the international community to come together to find a solution to the conflict in Syria. “The children are very aware of this situation and all they wish is for the war to end so they can go back home and be children again,” said Touma. “That’s exactly what we need to invest in – providing assistance to Syrian children wherever they are, in Syria or in neighbouring countries or Europe or wherever, so that they can eventually go back home and build their lives again.”