MOSCOW, August 31 (RIA Novosti) – Children are being enlisted by Syrian rebel groups, to be used as combatants and sexual slaves, as they represent a vulnerable social group, which can be easily convinced and manipulated.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report, child recruitment has been frequently practiced by many Syrian rebel factions, including the Nusra Front, the Islamic Front and ISIS. Attracted by well-presented radical ideology, a desire to follow their family members or driven by factors such as poverty, unemployment or orphanage, children join militia groups who offer them a certain level of protection and provision.
Children recruited by rebel forces such as ISIS are usually sent to training camps where they undergo hard physical training and religious indoctrination.
“It was a very difficult camp. They gave us a very severe training. We would wake up, pray, after prayer maybe around 9 a.m. we did exercises, then rest in the room, then Sharia courses, then military study, then more Sharia courses, then some rest, prayer,” said a former Syrian child soldier when interviewed by HRW.
This radical education is often combined with abuse, sexual harassment and humiliation. Children are forced to participate in suicide bombings or military operations resulting in mass casualties. According to Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, more than 10 000 children have been killed during the ongoing Syrian conflict.
Latest evaluations suggest that about 300,000 children are currently being involved in conflicts around the world. The so-called DDR-programs, referred to Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, are designed to provide assistance for former child combatants. However, due to their rigid structure, such programs often fail to address special needs of certain affected adolescents, particularly girls. Since the involvement in the DDR process underscores the fact of their former membership in an armed group, many under-age female soldiers try to remain invisible and are not willing to take part in rehabilitation programs, fearing to be stigmatized by their communities.
Thus, the DDR-process is generally characterized by a series of shortcomings, which can and should be eliminated by means of a closer and more thorough examination of actual former under-age combatants’ needs. Nevertheless, any rehabilitation process plays an essential role in securing a successful return of child soldiers to a normal life. For the ongoing civil war in Syria it is, unfortunately, not the case. Since the settlement of the conflict is highly unlikely in the nearest future, more and more child soldiers are expected to be used by rebel groups in the forthcoming military operations.