2015 was a dramatic year with attacks in the West that shook the world alongside the constant conflict in the Middle-east that opened the global communities eyes to the growing threat that is ISIS.
The roots of this growing epidemic can be traced to the US-led 2004 invasion of Iraq where the Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his militant group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency for the suicide attacks on Shia Islamic mosques, civilians, Iraqi government institutions and Italian soldiers partaking in the US-led ‘Multi-National Force’. Al-Zarqawi’s group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network in October 2004.
Almost 10 years down the line following a few changes in alliances and leadership, the world has come to know the devastating phenomenon that is the Islamic State. The IS is currently fighting on many fronts all over the middle east and has even managed to work its way in to the West. The world media has been bombarded with Anti-IS messages while the IS themselves have made a prominent mark on Social Media and has even used social networking for recruitment purposes around the globe.
As many terrorist organizations, IS too looks to a more appalling form of recruitment, and that is the use of Child Soldiers. According to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 1,100 children under the age of sixteen have been recruited by the Islamic State between January and August 2015.A Syrian Human Rights Committee report states that Most of them take part in non-killing activities, assisting elder fighters in a logistical manner, such as transferring ammunition, preparing meals, cleaning munitions and machines, whilst others assist with guarding patrols and barriers.
The recruitment process plays on the plight of those struck by the devastation of war, exploiting the dire lack of necessities faced by those living in the region. The group offers payments of around $250 and $350 per child per month to those who send their children to join its ranks, and with severe food insecurity of local families many families are willing send their children to ISIS due to their material needs.
IS also takes the helm of grooming these soldiers, with festivals at mosques and in public squares to brainwash the children in attendance. It boasts about al-Qaeda’s victories in Afghanistan and delivers sermons praising its leaders’ heroism. They teach a doctrine of an honorable death that can only be achieved through combat in the name of religion and further inspires the youth through prizes and financial rewards.
The propaganda does not stop there, with billboards plastered around cities with messages of glory targeting the public, particularly children alongside broadcasts of video clips of combat missions and the groups achievements, their own religious anthems and lectures on Sharia.
The child recruits are enrolled in to the “Caliphate Cubs.” and once enrolled they are introduced to the Sharia Camps, where they study the religious underpinnings of ISIS’s ideology. It indoctrinates the children with its own form of Islam and trains them to swear fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the Caliph.
The children also undergo physical training exercises in preparation for combat missions and begin using light weaponry alongside recordings of ISIS sermons and combat and terrorist operations to get them ready for the transition to the barracks
Following the strenuous Sharia training he children are sorted into groups based on their mental and physical capabilities and those with physical prowess are sent to the fronts for combat and to take part in suicide missions while another group is responsible for logistical operations such as performing maintenance, conducting patrols, and transporting ammunition
Another group is, consisting of children who do not score well on physical assessment but have strong mental faculties are taken in as informants who operate among the general public and they commonly referred to as the “Flash Memory” and report directly to ISIS’s Security Offices with information on local civilians.
Children are easily influenced and given the hardship they go through on a daily basis makes them an easy target for recruitment. Eager to learn and a certain lack of comprehension paves the way for IS to easily exploit these children and has given IS the ability to mitigate its losses of adult fighters due to migration and fighting.