The reality of becoming a child soldier in Syria

4 October 2019

It doesn’t come as a surprise that 75% of the most vulnerable civilians in Syria are women and children. Much of this vulnerability comes from the extreme poverty they face during the ongoing war. Unfortunately, it leads many parents to believe that the only option for their sons is to send them off to fight for and alongside armed terrorist groups such as ISIS who sometimes provide financial subsidies to the families. Additionally, many children volunteer to become part of ISIS and other terrorist organisation groups because of their dire situation.

Armed groups have used child soldiers for generations, kidnapping youths from their homes and forcing them to fight against their own people. However, Syrian child soldiers have a different story. ISIS use a ‘soft’ approach which consists of the slow introduction of the group’s ideology, worldview, and apocalyptic vision. This process makes the lines between recruitment and indoctrination very blurred, especially for young impressionable minds and has proven to be extremely successful. This slow process is evidence that ISIS has a long-term plan to take advantage and utilise these children differently from previous uses of child soldiers who have constantly had to force them to fight. In addition to this tactic, boys are often separated from their older male relatives in village and town squares to then hear gun shots, and although they are told that the victims are only animals, the youths know full well that it is their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and older brothers, who have rejected the proposal to convert to Islam, on the receiving end of the bullets.

Whilst children are being trained into becoming child soldiers, a ransom is often set, sometimes even $10,000. Often the ransom is paid but they boys are returned against their will to families that they do not recognise or want to be with. One story tells the account of an unnamed child soldier who was returned to his mother who he then attacked and claimed he was not hers. The boy also threatened his sisters with a knife, calling them infidels. Most disturbingly, they were evicted from their home after numerous attempts of burning it down. Luckily, with the assistance of counselling and therapy this boy is on the way to recovery, helping his mother around the house as well as working. This is not an uncommon story, but sadly many do not end up in the same way.

An obvious solution to this would be to alleviate the poverty that exists throughout the nation, however, as we all know, this is a mammoth task, made even harder by an ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, funding to aid and assist child soldiers return to normality has been decreasing over the years, in 2010 $27 million was sent for this issue whereas 2016 saw just $6.5 million. There needs to be more time and funds spent on getting these boy’s lives back to normality on returning home. So much of the war is fought in the minds of individuals and not on the battlefield and it is easy to overlook when there are such large amounts of visible scares to fix.


If you would like to support our winter appeal for those returning home to Syria, click here!

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