Mosul (Iraq), Nov 17: Around 600,000 children are trapped inside the beleaguered Iraqi city of Mosul where they are being maimed in the fighting and used as human shields, Save the Children said on Thursday.
"It's horrific that the only option these families and children have right now is to wave a white rag and pray they won't get caught in the crossfire," said Save the Children in Iraq's deputy director Aram Shakaram.
Children are paying a heavy price one month into the offensive launched by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to dislodge the Islamic State from its stronghold in Iraq, the charity said.
Up to a dozen children a day are being maimed as the offensive pushes further into the city, front-line medics and hospital doctors have told the charity. They are also being used as human shields, families have said.
More must be done to ensure the safety of civilians, Shakaram said.
"As this conflict pushes deeper into the city and becomes increasingly brutal, all parties must ensure civilians can flee safely and access humanitarian aid," he said.
"Safe escape routes must be the priority, not an afterthought."
One family in an area of Mosul still under IS control told Save the Children it had recently been forced into a local school with 600 other people to be used as human shields, the charity said.
The family was released after six hours when IS fighters decided to use relatives of police officers and Iraqi army soldiers instead, they said.
Even if they make it to safety, many children have been seriously injured in the fighting or are showing signs of intense psychological distress, Save the Children warned.
So far nearly 60,000 people have fled Mosul and its surrounds, including tens of thousands of children. Many more families are expected to try to escape and make their way to refugee camps as the offensive continues, the charity warned.
Up to 500,000 people could flee Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, as the liberation battle continues, according to the Iraqi government.
Save the Children has deployed a child protection team to provide emergency psychological first aid to children escaping the violence, and has set up safe spaces for children to learn and play, as well as literacy and numeracy classes.
"Many children have been through two years of IS and were then forced to flee through a war zone, and some told us they have seen people shot and hanged. Imagine what effect that would have on a child," said Shakaram.
IS overran Mosul in June 2014 and declared it the capital of its Islamic 'caliphate' stretching across swathes of territory it seized in Iraq and Syria during a lightening offensive.