Since 2011, war has ravaged Syria and drastically changed the lives of millions, especially for children. An estimated 2.6 million Syrian children now live in other nations as refugees. More than one million of the refugee children do not have access to education, and an additional 1.75 million children who remain in Syria also do not attend school. Millions of Syrian children live in extreme poverty, which drives them to become soldiers in an extremely dangerous conflict.
The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Syria
The recruitment of children under the age of 18 by armed groups has been rising in Syria as the war continues. In 2016 alone, 851 children were recruited to be child soldiers in Syria. In that same year, 652 children died and 647 were maimed, and these numbers are rapidly rising. In January and February of 2018, 1,000 children were killed or injured in the Syrian conflict.
Some of these child soldiers have been kidnapped by armed groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Others are young Arabs or Muslims from Europe who have been convinced by radical groups like ISIS to leave their homes and join the fight against the Syrian government. Many, however, are children in Syria or in refugee camps in neighboring countries who have volunteered to become soldiers.
Syrian children often volunteer to become soldiers because of the dire situations in which their families live, situations caused by the war. By 2015, 80 percent of Syria’s population lived below the poverty line, and the situation has continued to worsen. With the unemployment rate in the country at 57.7 percent at the beginning of 2015, millions are struggling to survive. In addition, more than 90 percent of refugee families in Lebanon are at risk of food insecurity, and 80 percent in Jordan live in poverty.
For these families that are struggling to survive, the benefits that armed groups offer child soldiers in Syria can be life-saving. Some parents believe their only option is to send their children to fight for ISIS or ISIS-affiliated groups in return for financial subsidies. Other children join the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the main rebel groups fighting the Syrian government. The FSA provides its fighters with monthly benefits including salaries. Additionally, the FSA offers refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp precedence in receiving food aid and cash assistance that are crucial to their survival.
Providing a Solution
Alleviating Syrian poverty could be a crucial step in reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria. This could be done by providing Syrians with humanitarian aid, like helping them get food and homes and jobs. Children will be less vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups if they and their families are living in more stable situations.
The United States is mobilizing humanitarian aid to provide food, water, education and medical services to Syrian children and their families. International aid and the acceptance of refugees are also key. However, the “humanitarian needs inside Syria continue to outpace the international response.” Increased aid from the U.S. and other nations is key to relieving poverty in Syria and surrounding nations and reducing the number of children that are recruited to be soldiers.
– Laura Turner