As Syria enters its fourth year in a civil battle, Human Rights Watch has reported certain Syrian groups are using child soldiers as young as 15 for battle and suicide missions. HRW has named extremist Islamic groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS,) as specifically baiting children through the false promise of free educational opportunity. According to international law, armed group leaders who recruit child soldiers can be tried as war criminals.

Majed was only 12 years old when he started spending time with members of the Islamic terrorist group, Nusra Front. Like many other groups, Nusra Front masked their true intentions behind educational opportunities, and once they had reeled in a significant group of followers, social pressure would do the rest. Amr, 17, fought with an extremist Islamist group in northern Syria at just 15, where children were “encouraged” to participate in suicide bombings. His friends had signed on, so Amr felt pressured to follow suit — though he was able to get away just before his turn came up.

While the actual number of child soldiers in Syria is unknown, the Violations Documenting Center, a Syrian monitoring group, has recorded at least 194 deaths of “non-civilian” male children since 2011. These children (male and female) are being used to fight in battles, act as snipers, participate in suicide bombing missions, treat the wounded on battlefields and carry ammunition to and from the front lines.

The Syrian government has been subject to an array of horrific crimes, including recent reports of government forces dropping chlorine bombs on citizens, including children. Now, with armed opposition groups sending children to fight, the civil battle has resulted in a double-edged sword: one which Syrian children are falling victim to.

Children who want to leave armed groups are left with few options and lack of social support. Saleh, 17, has fought with the Free Syrian Army since he was 15 after he was detained and tortured by government forces. After years of fighting, Saleh has often wished for a different life. “I thought of leaving [the fighting] a lot,” he said. “I lost my studies, I lost my future, I lost everything.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time
Photo: Naij