Alarm over growing use of child soldiers

The big boys: Isa Dare and his mother left the UK for Syria in 2012.

Isa Dare’s role in Daesh’s latest video is a reminder that child recruits are as important to the group as adults. The issue of child soldiers is growing around the world – what can be done?

‘We are going to kill the kafir over there.’

With these chilling words, a boy who was just a baby when the Syrian War started took its centre stage. He appeared in a video released by Daesh (so-called ‘Islamic State’) on Sunday, dressed in camouflage gear and threatening non-believers in the UK with death. His grandfather later identified him as Isa Dare, the son of a Nigerian-British woman who went to Syria in 2012.

Children have previously appeared in Daesh propaganda – Isa himself was seen brandishing an AK-47 in a photo posted online in 2014. But never before has the group given a child such a prominent role. The video sends out a harrowing message: even if the current crop of jihadists is eliminated, a new generation is waiting to take over.

This is a reminder that Daesh is more than a mere terrorist group. It boasts a complex recruitment programme, which targets young and old alike. When it captures new territory, it holds public meetings to lure local kids, often promising sweets and toys. In time, they are invited to watch executions, wield weapons, and eventually kill people themselves.

Training is not random, but systematic. The schools in Daesh held territory follow its curriculum, teaching pupils the importance of establishing a caliphate and waging jihad against non-believers. The group runs large military camps for its young members (who are known as ‘Cubs’). In this way, children are indoctrinated and groomed to become fighters or wives.

Daesh’s use of children may be especially sophisticated, but it is not unique. There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers in the world today; their average age is 14, and 40% of them are girls. Their number is increasing.

Many of the culprits are military groups like Daesh, but state armies such as Nigeria’s and South Sudan’s have also recruited underage fighters. Of these young lives, those not lost in combat are tragically damaged.

A hopeless case?

Contrary to popular belief, a large proportion of child soldiers volunteer, or are volunteered by their family. This may be because the life of a child soldier appears preferable to the life they have (although they often do not realise what they are volunteering for). Some believe the most effective action is to punish the parents who let their children go.

On the other hand, groups like Amnesty International want to enforce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that ‘all children have the right to special protection in time of conflict and should not take a direct part in hostilities’. And there are many projects across the world providing education and counselling to help ex-child soldiers return to civilian life.

You Decide

  1. What would be the best way to stop children becoming fighters?
  2. The age at which volunteers can join the British army is 16. Should it be raised to 18?

Activities

  1. Should child soldiers be prosecuted for war crimes? List three reasons why they should and three reasons why they should not.
  2. Write a letter to David Cameron, raising the issue of child soldiers, and telling him what you think the UK government could do to help tackle it.

Some People Say...

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.”

Adolf Hitler

What do you think?

Q & A

The footage of Isa Dare is grim. But why all the fuss, when child soldiers are so common?
True. But Daesh’s use of children is especially dangerous. Elsewhere, child soldiers are generally taken from their families (or orphaned), given a gun and told to kill the enemy. Most of Daesh’s young fighters have been handed over willingly by their parents, and indoctrinated with the group’s ideology. This will make it harder to rehabilitate them in the future.
What can the UK do?
British arms companies do a lot of business with regimes who employ child soldiers, despite criticism from the UN. The UK government could pressure those companies to stop. It could condemn those regimes more loudly. And it could set an example by raising the age at which volunteers can join its own army from 16 to 18.

Word Watch

Kafir
Non-Muslim.
Propaganda
Information – including images, videos, even music – used to promote a political cause.
Jihadists
Muslims who believe it is their duty to spread their religion by waging war (jihad) against non-Muslims or non-believers.
Indoctrinated
Taught to accept certain ideas without criticising them.
Groomed
Prepared or trained for a particular role.
300,000
This figure is widely accepted by NGOs, even though it is a very rough estimate. It refers to the number of under-18s actively participating in a conflict.
Rehabilitation
Restoring someone to good health or a normal life through therapy and other sorts of training.
UNICEF
A United Nations agency that works to improve the health and living standards of children (and their mothers) around the world.
Stigma
Disgrace.
Anecdotal
Based on the personal accounts of people (said to be) involved; not proved by research.

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