MOSCOW, November 1 (RIA Novosti) — Thousands of children are being used as soldiers by numerous state armed forces, most notably in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and by dozens of non-state groups, including the Islamic State and other militants, in what amounts to a flagrant violation of international law.
Child soldiers take part in the fighting but can also fulfill non-combat roles, acting as spies or messengers, Human Rights watch explains. Although accurate data is unavailable, as many as 250,000 children are believed to be taking part in armed conflicts globally, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a former UN Force Commander for UNAMIR, asserted. However, these estimates do not include young people recruited by the Islamic State, said Dr. Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Child Soldiers Initiative, a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide.
The radical Sunni group has gained the world’s attention following a blitz offensive in Iraq in June. It was then estimated to total 10,000 fighters. The IS has since greatly intensified its recruitment efforts in both Iraq and Syria, as well as abroad. Tens of thousands of children are believed to have joined the Islamists among others in 2014, Dr. Whitman told Radio VR. “Reports that I have from people who have been on the ground in places like Iraq suggest that the numbers [of children fighting for IS] are huge,” the expert stated. She insisted the world would be shocked if it really understood how prevalent the use of children in armed conflicts was.
Dr. Whitman could not provide the exact number but said it could be in the range of 200,000 to 300,000, according to the information she has received from several sources. If verified, that would mean that children fighting for or assisting the Islamic State account for the half of child soldiers globally.
Some children are forced to join radical groups, while others enlist of their own volition, pursuing political, ideological or personal goals, Dr. Whitman said. However, not all of them embrace extreme ideology once they get first-hand experience of being in an armed group. “It no longer resonates with you, once you see the level of violence …. All of the rationale behind it seems to lose focus,” the expert said, citing former child soldiers she interviewed.
The expert also stated that child soldiers are a “strategic propaganda tool [used] to recruit young people into an armed group from around the world.” Not surprisingly then, social media is one of the key recruitment tools used by the Islamic State. For instance, this week, the group posted an image of a boy, Abu Usama al-Salafi, on its social media accounts. The Islamists claim the boy is the youngest IS fighter taking part in the battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani.
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