Sana'a: At least 24 children have been killed so far in the on-going civil unrest in Yemen, while several hundred have sustained injuries, said the Sana'a-based Unicef representative in a statement on Saturday.

"This is extremely alarming", said Geert Cappelaere."I am gravely concerned about this escalation of violence, especially with regard to the number of child casualties, which keeps increasing."

In focus: Unrest in the Middle East

According to information gathered by Unicef partner, local NGO Seyaj, the total number of child casualties in the unrest between February 18 and April 8 is 662, including 24 deaths. If the child victims of the explosion at the ammunition factory in Abyan are included, the number jumps to 693 casualties in total, including 37 deaths. This information is systematically collected by Seyaj monitors in major cities and centres of unrest including Sana'a, Hudaida, Taiz, Abyan, Aden, Ibb, Sa'ada, Dhale, Dhamar, Al Baida', Amran, Hadhramout and Al Jawf.

The Seyaj report revealed the total number of children injured by live ammunition to be 31. Injuries due to physical violence were sustained by 47 children, while 552 suffered injuries caused by tear gas. Moreover, eight children have been arrested or unlawfully imprisoned.

"The government has an obligation to strictly abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, whether the country is in a declared State of Emergency or not," asserted Cappelaere, adding that protecting minors from violence and abuse is a universal responsibility all parties to the conflict are bound by.

While children must be guaranteed the right of association and freedom of expression, in the current climate of spiralling tension, children in Yemen have been exposed to exploitation, as well as life-threatening dangers and far too often pay a heavy price with their physical and mental wellbeing.

"Unicef urges all involved, including government, opposition groups, security forces, political actors, social and religious leaders, as well as parents and other concerned citizens, to make sure children are kept out of the conflict", said Cappelaere. "The children are Yemen's future, and their lives are more important than any political dispute."

The worsening security situation in the country has also curtailed school life for many children. Schools have been shut and many families have kept their children at home for safety, as protests around the country turn increasingly violent. Disruption of education is a serious development in a country that already has grave challenges educating all its boys and girls. Today, according to Unicef data, only 70 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls receive primary education.

"This violence and instability is adding a dangerous burden to Yemeni children, already tormented by a number of emergencies and chronic underdevelopment", said Cappelaere.