Children are adversely affected by armed conflicts around the world. Michelle Foti, vice chairman of the Children and Armed Conflict in 2016 reported that 250 million children are victims of armed conflicts from around the world. Another UN report on children and conflicts stated that Afghanistan has seen the largest ever number of child victims since the UN began documenting civilian victims in 2009, where 3,512 children were killed or disfigured in Afghanistan. And in Somalia, the number of children recruited or used in 2016 doubled compared to 2015. Likewise, the number of children stranded in besieged areas in Syria has reached 292,000. And when it comes to abuses carried out by Taliban, Boko Haram and Daesh(ISIS), that number reached 6,800. Further, the UN lists include a set of parties involved in committing grave abuses against children in armed conflict cases tabled at UN Security Council due to children recruitment and use and abuse.
Studies suggest that armies for long had been full of “child soldiers”) since antiquity and up to the First World War. Moving ahead to the twentieth century, children were indoctrinated in the Soviet Union the rules and values of communism through school textbooks. Similarly, the Nazis also set the foundation via education for abusing children. Such governments used socialization methods to create an active identity for adolescents. In the end, many children had been recruited in wars. In addition, the method of using children, from a strategic and tactical perspective, was and still remains a determining factor in war. Further, the brutality with which children act in armed groups, poses a problem, not only from a humanitarian perspective, but also from a strategic point of view. Terrorist groups and organizations can pose an asymmetrical military threat by using child soldiers. For instance, the Lord Army in Uganda had around 200 adult members only, yet it was able to project military force with around 12,000 children abducted by the group. Hence, the use of child soldiers doesn’t only violate the intended rules of engagement but makes the conflicts last longer and become more deadly.
And along with the increase of child recruitment, children are being abused in large numbers by terrorist groups. For instance, Boko Haram in 2015 abducted somewhere around 1,000 to 1,500 children and some of them were deployed in the front lines as human shields. Meanwhile, Daesh used forced fertilization and pregnancy as a means of creating a new generation of the so-called Mujahedeen. And since such children are going to be born in areas under their control, they would be indoctrinated to the violent tactics of the group. It seems that Daesh was grooming the children for future roles, since the leaked documents and statements revealed that the number of minors who were found in such areas affirms what is already known about Daesh’s active use of children in violence pathways.
Most prominent roles of children in terrorist organizations:
Children perform various roles in terrorist groups where their tasks are not confined to direct combat and suicide bombings, but extend to carry out varied logistical and intelligence roles. So, most notable tasks carried out by children in terrorist organization are as follows:
1. Direct combat (soldiers and suicide bombers) where children are trained on various military skills such as combat on front lines, detention centers, making explosives, sniper skills and check points. In fact, Daesh has posted videos showing children carrying out a set of wide ranging training to prepare for such roles.
Moreover, children are trained on how to conduct suicide attacks and were sometimes required to wear explosive vests while they were doing other missions such as duties of guards when they came under attack. And according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in July 2015, there were around 19 cases of suicide bombings carried out by children. And children are important as suicide bombers because they are less fearful compared to adults and they do not engage in situational analysis based on previous experiences.
Thus, a lot of video clips were broadcast online for executions carried out by children, dubbed Cubs of the Caliphate. In one of those videos, there was a clip for a Daesh fighter saying goodbye to his 11 years old son, after loading his car for a suicide bombing mission. Another clip showed a terrorist saying goodbye to two of his daughters aged 7 and 9, after fitting them with explosive vests. Moreover, news agencies have posted videos in which the Iraqi police arrested a 12 year old child solider recruited by Daesh before detonating himself at a police checkpoint.
2. Surveillance and information gathering operations, where children are trained at the beginning to exchange information on family members, neighbors or friends who do not conform to the rules and practices of the terrorist group. After passing that phase, they would be elevated to other roles with greater responsibilities. So, when they are at the frontlines and engaging the enemy, they will be trained to spy on the enemy as well. For instance, in 2014, a 14 year old child was arrested after he was found monitoring the movements of the Egyptian army in Sheikh Zuweid area in Sinai Peninsula, for Daesh.
3. Dark Propaganda Operations: children are used to take part in execution operations, and Daesh is keen to instill such atrocities in children and desensitize them to these atrocities. So, some of them would assist in carrying out execution sentences by handing over knives to adult fighters, while other would conduct the executions by themselves. Moreover, children are taught that execution is a privilege and honor. In total, Daesh propaganda has shown 12 children taking part and carrying out execution of prisoners in 2015 and 2016.
In most cases children who participate in terrorist organizations’ activities pay a heavy price in terms of their wellbeing and future. Therefore, they need a long term rehabilitation process. In Uganda, for instance, a study conducted on a sample of former child soldiers in the Lord Army indicated high level of psychological distress and showed that around 93 to 97% of them had symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD), 20% suffered depression, 13% of them suffered anxiety, 37% suffered nightmares and 54% of them had general emotional and behavioral problems, let alone state of fear and panic, making it difficult for them to sleep or relax. Thus, shock can appear at children aged between 7 and 12 through social isolation.
In February 2002, 150 countries ratified the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates the criticality of not involving children in armed conflicts. And on that date every year, the world celebrates the Red Hand Day. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that those who take part in war and less than 15 years old are deemed child soldiers, and in 2002 the age was elevated to 18 years.
In the annual report of 2017of the UN secretary general, he proposed that children linked to armed groups or those existing in areas in the hands of such groups to be handed over civilians specialized in child protection. The UN engagement with the armed groups in “children not soldiers” campaign resulted in separating 3,897 children from armed groups in the Central African Republic, and 1,850 others from the military wing of Moro Liberation Front. This important mission may give high hope to mitigate the phenomenon of child recruitment in conflicts and wars.