MOSCOW, June 23 (RIA Novosti) - Syrian non-state armed groups, including extremist group ISIS, have used children, often recruited through free schooling campaigns targeting children displaced and damaged from Syria’s ongoing conflicts, to fight their battles, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
“Syrian armed groups shouldn’t prey on vulnerable children – who have seen their relatives killed, schools shelled, and communities destroyed by enlisting them in their forces,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, a Middle East children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of 31-page report Maybe We Live and Maybe We Die, which documents the experiences of 25 children involved in Syrian fighting.
“The horrors of Syria’s armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines,” the researcher added.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 25 former child soldiers to get a better understanding of the practices used to lure children into non-state armed groups. Although the report only interviewed boys, girls are reportedly also enlisted in support roles.
Currently, the exact number of child soldiers is unknown and will probably remain so, because recruiting and using children in armed conflict is against international law. The Violations Documenting Center, a Syrian monitoring group, documented 194 deaths of male children described as “non-civilians” since September 2011, a number bringing us closer to the truth.
“Majed” a 16-year-old boy interviewed, said that Jabhat al-Nusra in Daraa recruited him and other boys in his community through free schooling that included military training and target practice. Majed said commanders asked children as well as adults to sign up for suicide attacks. “Sometimes fighters volunteered, and sometimes [commanders] said, ‘Allah chose you.’”
According to the interviews, children join non-state armed groups for reasons ranging from following friends and relatives, to anger against the government. Child soldiers hold adult responsibilities within groups, including fighting in battles, acting as snipers, manning checkpoints, spying, treating the wounded and smuggling ammunition and other supplies to the front line.
In the past, attempts to end the use of child soldiers have proven unsuccessful. Recently, a Kurdish military leader voiced the group’s stance against child soldiers, stating the group plans to demobilize all soldiers under the age of 18 within a month. The June 5th announcement inspires hope, but much is to be done. More research and data is needed, and demobilized youths require counseling to prevent re-entrance to extremist groups.
Human Rights Watch urges governments and individuals providing aid to Syrian armed groups to do their research and be aware of the possible use of children in combat. Public commitment to banning the use of children as soldiers is imperative to making effective changes to those fighting on the battlefield.