Peter Salama, regional director of UNICEF in the Middle East, is reporting Syrian children continue to be forced to fight in the nation’s civil war, dying in classrooms.
“In the past, children over 16 have been involved in the military in non-combat roles, but we are seeing a very different pattern today,” he said, adding:
It is one of the most insidious trends in Syria. The majority of those children are now under the age of 15, which is a very different pattern to previously. The majority are now in combat roles being used on the frontlines, and the majority are forced to join, often abducted. They are being used as uninformed, armed checkpoints, and sometimes as forced labour.
He also claimed forces pushed more than “several hundred children” to fight in 2015, and at least 400 died as a result.
Salama pointed out that strikes destroyed 47 schools in 2015, pushing the total attacks on education to 4,000 since the civil war broke out five years ago.
“We are seeing children killed and maimed in schools and playgrounds by all parties to the conflict,” he continued.
Many militias in Iraq train or recruit children. Mytham al-Nuri was under 18 when he joined the PMF’s Badr Brigades – his father Karim is the brigades’ spokesman — and fought on the front lines in 2014. He finished high school this September. The Ali Akbar brigades’ Abbas Fighting Team unit provides military training to 15 to 18 year olds in Basra, according [to] a member of the group who spoke to Human Rights Watch in July. The Peace Brigades, another militia group from Basra affiliated with the Sadrist Trend, trains 15 to 18 year olds, according to one of the trainers, but had not sent them to the front line “yet.”
The use of child soldiers by anti-ISIS militias has not made headlines like the “Caliphate Cubs” have because these groups do not advertise their use of children the way ISIS does. They boast about their efforts with videos and pictures on social media. Militants often show off the “Cubs” in specialized training camps for kids. In October, authorities uncovered one camp in Istanbul, Turkey. Hürriyet Daily News reported that “24 of around 50 suspects of Tajik and Uzbek origin” are children who trained in those basement camps. The officers raided 18 homes in the “Pendik and Başakşehir’s Kayaşehir neighborhood.” The houses contained “battlefield maps as well as documents describing the group’s contacts in both countries.” Other evidence led authorities to believe the group intended to meet ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
UNICEF also announced an appeal to raise $2.8 billion for children in conflict areas. The organization discovered that one in nine children reside in these zones.
At least 25 percent of the funds will be used for education.
“Millions of children are being robbed of their education,” declared Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s director of Emergency Programs.
Education is a life-saving measure for children, providing them with the opportunity to learn and play, amidst the carnage of gunfire and grenades. This year, a quarter of our appeal is devoted to education. By educating the minds of children and young people we are building hope so they can envisage a better future for themselves, their families and their societies and help break the cycle of chronic crisis.