ISIS & Child Soldiers

Their guns are as big as they are — which is not saying much.

Children, six percent under the age of twelve, abandon their childhood for the sake of ISIS, whether by force, coercion, their family’s desire or more commonly their own will. The caliphate and the ideology of ISIS is embedded into their minds as they become ‘cubs of the Islamic State.’ Instead of learning how to start a fire and receiving badges as Cub Scouts would normally do in the States, these boys are risking their lives for a cause that they are not even capable of understanding yet.

“They use dolls to teach them how to behead people, then they make them watch a beheading, and sometimes they force them to carry the heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts.”

As the children are brainwashed and their innocence is in the process of being destroyed, ISIS is publicly displaying their use of children, almost as a means of propaganda. This convincing tactic is used to display ISIS as a ‘home’ for children, providing a sense of security to those who have been outcasted, abandoned, and are alone. These children are nothing but blank slates. ISIS can normalize what it means to kill and be killed and with no other adult guidance, this is what the children internalize.

“It offers a three-point recipe for recruits — the presentation of a positive alternative, attacking enemy values and actions, and launching targeted “missiles” to exploit the mainstream media.”

The majority of these children are from Syria and their deaths are usually a result of a detonated vehicle bomb or of having the job of being a foot soldier. In a survey of 89 children, 20% of them were killed from ‘plunging attacks’, meaning a “military operation in which a group of fighters attack an enemy position before blowing themselves up.” These child soldiers are not being used in replace of adults, but rather alongside of them. They are simply the next jihadists in training.

“ISIS is integrating children into its project in a way that is more reminiscent of a state than a non-state actor. It’s thinking with the long term in mind. It’s not just bringing children into its ranks and using them immediately on the battlefield. What it’s doing is bringing them in, indoctrinating them, training them, spending a lot of time instilling them with jihadist ideology.”

A majority of the child soldiers highlighted are boys, but girls, many of them Yazidis, also have a role within the systematic institution of ISIS, however their ‘work’ is hidden in the background. They are married off to commanders in the group, are sold for material goods like cigarettes, or are kept in sexual captivity. Any girl over the age of nine is taken and raped. It became a norm for these girls to repeatedly attempt to commit suicide because “life was a nightmare” and escape was not an option.

“Every day I died 100 times over. Not just once. Every hour I died, every hour. … From the beating, from the misery, from the torture.”

All children, including Yazadis, are taught how to pray ‘correctly’, in the traditional Sunni Islam manner and are forced to memorize the Koran. Outsiders are to be looked at and treated as infidels, with no respect, trust, or leniency. From the beginning, child soldiers are taught what it means to feel hatred, be fearful, and to become num to violence, but not what it means to really be a child. ISIS in both their political and religious beliefs are to blame for the physical deaths of numerous children, but they also should be criticized for their part in the loss of memories, experiences, and choices a child should have. They have no voice and if they are deemed worth survival, they probably will never be able to find their voice again.

Although there is great concern for these children and their situation, there is also the question for overseas troops specifically, what is the clear distinction between a child in danger and a dangerous child? Is there a point when a dangerous child is too far gone to be ‘saved?’ Some of these children have grown up in this one environment, absorbing this one mindset, this one ideology.

“I told them, ‘If you see the army, drop your weapons and tell them you are orphans. Maybe they will spare your lives.”
“American police can’t even do that in our cities… The possibility for error is great, and the backlash could be horrific.”

ISIS is not the only group or country military using children as soldiers, but the religious doctrine and the familial acceptance that runs so deep is what makes their use of children different. In Liberia, Uganda, and Mozambique family and religion are the ties that pull children soldiers out, yet this it what binds children to ISIS, thus how are children supposed to be pulled out? No ‘roots’ or morals are tying them back to a life they once had or never had the chance to live, but without that reminder it is easy for it to fade into the background.

The only escape is to break the religious ties. To find areas of conflict and disagreement between the Koran and the actions of ISIS. This and breaking the link in the continuing generation to generation pass of leadership is how ISIS and the role of children as soldiers begins to disintegrate. Yet, as many articles and sources have reiterated no one expects this to happen any time soon. It would be considered “wrong to imagine a ‘post-Islamic State’ world at this time.”

“The caliphate idea will exist long beyond its proto-state,” it continues. “If compelled to, the group’s true believers will simply retreat into the virtual world, where they will use the vast archive of propaganda assembled by the group over these past few years to keep themselves buoyant with nostalgia.”

If there is no hope for a post-ISIS world, then at this point there has to just be some level of hope for a post-child soldiers ISIS world. But, how is there supposed to be hope? To be honest, I have no idea and what I have learned is that no one really knows either. When it comes to something deeply tied to religion, there are beliefs, assumptions, and opinions, but no one really ‘knows’ anything.