Photo credit: Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty
By Maajid Nawaz
There are roughly 5 million children living under the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. As such, it was only a matter of time before the worst terror group of our lifetime set its sights on them.
And now it has.
Working with Child Soldiers Initiative, and endorsed by UNICEF, my counter-extremism organization Quilliam has released a seminal report (PDF) documenting the use of child soldiers by ISIS. This report makes for cruel reading.
The United Nations has received credible but unverified reports suggesting that ISIS has created a youth wing called Fityan al-Islam, meaning boys of Islam. The precedent seems to have been set by the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussain in Iraq, which in the late 1970s established the Futuwah (Youth Vanguard) movement with the most important Iraqi child soldier units known as Ashbal Saddam, or Saddam’s Lion Cubs.
Apparently after studying the Nazi regime, which created the Hitler Youth, ISIS is now busy training and indoctrinating children en masse. But as with most things ISIS lays its hands on, the group has taken its brutality involving children way beyond anything Hitler or Saddam ever did.
ISIS has abducted between 800 and 900 children ranging between the ages of 9 and 15 from various regions of Mosul city and province. From last August to February, 254 instances of children being used in ISIS propaganda were found. Many are being trained as spies, preachers, soldiers, executioners, and suicide bombers. In counting lessons children tally up guns or tanks instead of apples and oranges. Media outlets within the “caliphate” have issued statements warning that children who refuse to conform with ISIS orders will be flogged, tortured, or raped.
Of particular concern here in the U.K., there are as many as 50 British children subjected to direct ISIS command and control. To our collective horror, some of these have been forced to carry out beheadings or hold up decapitated heads to show they are ready to embrace the “jihad.” In the past six months alone ISIS propaganda has depicted no less than 12 child killers. One recent macabre video showed a 4-year-old British boy apparently detonating a car bomb, killing four alleged spies trapped in the vehicle.
The girls fair no better. While in captivity young women and girls have been taken and raped on a daily basis by ISIS fighters. Most girls are being processed to be molded as wives and mothers of future soldiers. As if shaping an unborn army, estimated 31,000 women living under ISIS rule are pregnant.
Teachers, too, are forced to enlist in this totalitarian social experiment. Four teachers were abducted from a high school in Mosul last January for opposing ISIS, and last March a primary school teacher was executed for criticizing the group.
But it gets worse.
Until now, if we want to make a comparison, the use of child soldiers in Liberia and Angola was restricted to abducting them from their families, and forcing them to fight. What makes ISIS’s use of children more insidious than Hitler’s, Saddam’s, and these African cases, is the active involvement of the families.
Parents have no choice but to comply with ISIS instructions to play a part in brutalizing their children. Mothers are given books by ISIS instructing them on how to raise their offspring for “jihad.” This includes telling bedtime stories about martyrdom, exposing children to graphic content through jihadist websites, and encouraging them to improve their child’s military skills and fitness. Using parents in this way is guaranteed to weaken any emotional resistance a child may naturally have to committing atrocities.