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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, as 2013 comes to an end, NPR is looking at numbers that sum up the year's news and tell stories of the year. The civil war in Syria presents so many staggering figures - millions of refugees, billions of dollars in destruction - since it started in the spring of 2011. But there's one number that seems to encapsulate the tragedy like no other - 11,420. That's the number of children killed in the conflict.

The independent Oxford Research Group, in London, complied the figure; and NPR's Deborah Amos is about to describe the enormous loss. We should warn you that her report, lasting about four minutes, contains disturbing accounts and sounds of violence.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: To understand what's happening to kids in Syria, you just have to look at YouTube videos. There are thousands online - this one posted at the end of November, an interview on the streets of Homs, one of the cities at the heart of the Syrian rebellion.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: The first boy says six rockets fell just in front of me - me and my friend, he adds. He speaks directly to the camera, rocking on his bike.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: A little girl says she's seen many dead bodies. When there is an attack, bodies are brought to my school, she explains. My dad helps with the burials.

Like so many Syrian kids, they've seen terrible things.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: A third boy says, "One guy lost his head; another lost his hand," as he describes the aftermath of a shelling he witnessed. In the background, children are riding bikes on the street as they continue to talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken)

(EXPLOSION, SHATTERING GLASS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Go! Go! Go!

AMOS: Then a blast interrupts; the exploding shell kicks up clouds of smoke and rocks. The children hit the ground, crawling to escape the immediate danger. The cameraman shouts: Come, come over here. Sometime later, we see them again - assembled inside a room. They have all survived.

AMOS: The boy on the bike says with some bravado: I made it by diving to the ground, just like I used to in the swimming pool. But boy another looks away and says his mother cried when she saw he was alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #3: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: This is how most children die in Syria, according to a study by the Oxford Research Group; from explosive weapons, Syrian army assaults on their neighborhood. But others are singled out, according to the data; killed by snipers, by executions, 112 recorded cases of death by torture.

In every war, children are casualties, caught in the crossfire of adult conflicts. But the numbers suggest this one is different: 11,420. This latest report - compiled from four databases that record the death count in Syria by name, age and cause of death - makes the case that children are specifically targeted.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND VEHICLE NOISES)

AMOS: The only refuge is the borderlands on neighboring countries. Here is another number that describes the Syrian conflict: 2 million refugees, more than half of them children. For the survivors, childhood vanishes with the hardships.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: "I am from Syria, and there is always shelling. I was afraid I was going to die," says this 10-year-old girl. She is on the street alone, at night, here in Beirut, selling packages of gum. She misses school, she says, but her family will be out on the street if she doesn't earn. Her home in Syria is in her dreams, she says.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: A beautiful house with two floors, and music. Whatever we wanted, we could eat. Now I sell gum to feed my brothers.

For these Syrian children, there is a war on childhood; human rights researchers say it is a way to destroy a family and a community.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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