The youth who have grown up saturated with extreme jihadist ideology will form a criminal generation that poses a threat to not only their country, but to the world.
Children, almost exclusively young boys, are targeted by terrorist groups to be trained to be military-minded from a young age for several reasons. Most importantly, they are easier to persuade and control. Many recruited children are orphans who have grown up in conflict zones. The inclusion in a powerful group gives them the illusion of acceptance.
Children can also move around unnoticed much easier than adults; they are more likely to be overlooked in a situation where a man might trigger caution, and soldiers often hesitate to shoot them even if they know the child is carrying explosives.
Most importantly for recruiters, children who are trained as extremist soldiers will grow into adults willing to kill and die for those same ideals and will offer up their own children to the same training. Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar says that “As a result [of their intensive training], years from now, a new generation of youth will emerge and pose a very serious threat not only to Syria but to surrounding countries as well.
Camps to train “cubs” have been opened in Syria and have released footage showing children ages four to 17 years old shooting AK-47s, undergoing military training and shouting for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Recruiters rely heavily on orphans and the donated children of extremist families to fill these ranks.
Egyptian child psychologist and Ain Shams University lecturer Enas al-Jamal discusses the devastating effects on the psyche of child soldiers. “This child grows up on violence and the use of force, while internally suppressing fear that could erupt at any time after he is moved away from the fighting.”
Al-Jamal is realistic about the hardship of establishing these children in a peaceful civilian lifestyle. “The difficulty in rehabilitation stems from the fact that they were subjected to comprehensive brainwashing that turned them into killing machines convinced of the legitimacy of murder and suicide via suicide bombings.”
The work of undoing everything these children are being taught will take tremendous effort and a collective awareness. The leaders of al-Qaeda may be cut down, but they have planted their seeds deeply. However, people’s tending to those seeds could prevent their resurrection.
– Lydia Caswell