There are reports of children being raped in war-torn Libya, Save the Children said today.
Families who have fled Misurata, Ajdabia, and Rus-Lanuf and are now in temporary camps in Benghazi, told Save the Children staff that children as young as eight had been sexually assaulted - sometimes in front of their families.
In one reported case mothers told of a group of girls being abducted, held hostage for four days and raped. When they were released they were unable to speak.
Some children said they had witnessed their fathers being murdered and mothers raped before they themselves were violently beaten.
Michael Mahrt, Save the Children's Child Protection Advisor who is currently conducting the assessment, said: "The reports of sexual violence against children are unconfirmed but they are consistent and were repeated across the four camps we visited.
"Children told us they have witnessed horrendous scenes. Some said they saw their fathers murdered and mothers raped. They described things happening to other children but they may have actually happened to them and they are just too upset to talk about it - it's a typical coping mechanism used by children who have suffered such abuse.
"What is most worrying is that we have only been able to speak to a limited number of children - what else is happening to those who are trapped in Misurata and other parts of the country who do not have a voice?"
Mr Mahrt said that some children are showing signs of physical and emotional distress; they are withdrawn, refuse to play and wake up crying in the night.
He added: "Whenever some children hear a gun being fired they re-live the terrible ordeal they have been through. It is clear that for many of them, their suffering is far from over."
Save the Children is calling for the international community to ensure that all parties respect children's right to be protected from violence and abuse.
Save the Children, together with other agencies, is conducting a 13-day assessment with families in the Benghazi area. To date the aid agency has talked to 200 children and 40 adults.
Save the Children is urgently scaling up its child protection work in Benghazi including training social workers to provide children with psycho-social support.