Syria: Armed Groups Send Children into Battle

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Recruitment Under the Guise of ‘Education’
  • What armed groups fighting the Syrian government should do:

    Stop recruiting and using children under 18;

    Discharge all children in their ranks.

    What governments and others supporting armed groups should do:

    Review armed groups' policies on recruiting children, and press them to stop; Suspend military aid to forces credibly implicated in widespread or systematic use of child soldiers.

    our recommendations

  • A 14-year-old fighter in a Free Syrian Army brigade takes position inside a house in Deir al-Zor, a city in eastern Syria, in July 2013.

    © 2013 REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

“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. The horrors of Syria’s armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines.”

Priyanka Motaparthy, Middle East children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

Non-state armed groups in Syria have used children as young as 15 to fight in battles, sometimes recruiting them under the guise of offering education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The groups have used children as young as 14 in support roles. Extremist Islamist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) have specifically recruited children through free schooling campaigns that include weapons training, and have given them dangerous tasks, including suicide bombing missions.

The 31-page report “‘Maybe We Live and Maybe We Die’: Recruitment and Use of Children by Armed Groups in Syria,” documents the experiences of 25 children and former child soldiers in Syria’s armed conflict. Human Rights Watch interviewed children who fought with the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front coalition, and the extremist groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, as well as the military and police forces in Kurdish-controlled areas. The report does not, for logistical and security reasons, cover all armed groups that allegedly have used children in Syria, in particular pro-government militias. Using children in armed conflict violates international law.

“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, Middle East children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The horrors of Syria’s armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines.” 

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