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More than 9,000 children have been recruited as soldiers to fight in South Sudan's bloody civil war, the United Nations said Wednesday.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said kids had been recruited by both government and rebel forces.
Pillay revealed the startling statistic as she spoke in the capital Juba, appealing to all sides and the international community to help end the brutal conflict.
"I shudder to think where South Sudan is heading," she said. "Many women and girls have been raped, often brutally and sometimes by several fighters. Others have been abducted.
"Children have also been killed during indiscriminate attacks on civilians by both sides."
The country descended into civil war in December after President Salva Kiir accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup. Although he denied this, Machar mobilized a rebel force and violence spread throughout the country.
Both sides have been accused of atrocities and attacks have been increasingly drawn along ethnic lines.
The U.N. puts the death toll in the tens of thousands, and it estimates more than 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge either within the country or abroad.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon requested Pillay visit South Sudan after retaliatory massacres in the cities of Bentiu and Bor left "piles and piles of bodies," most of them civilians.
Pillay said the "deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech, and revenge killings that has developed relentlessly over the past four and a half months seems to be reaching boiling point."
"How much worse does it have to get, before those who can bring this conflict to an end, especially President Kiir and Dr. Machar, decide to do so?"
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit South Sudan this week in an attempt to help find an end to the violence during a trip that will include stops in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.