Voice of America (VoA) reports that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has taken over at least eight schools, including two high schools, in Afghanistan, imposing a jihadi curriculum that teaches children the fundamentals of sharia and how to commit suicide bombings.
VoA notes that the terrorist group appears to be investing heavily in child indoctrination throughout the so-called “Caliphate,” which includes Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq, as well as strongholds in Afghanistan, Libya, Indonesia, and pockets elsewhere in the Muslim world. “IS is schooling thousands of children in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other places in radical, anti-Western thought and ways of terror,” the report states, adding that the group is also working to influence children outside of their strongholds with targeted propaganda and even an “educational” phone app that teaches Arabic language and strict sharia law simultaneously.
“Day after day and with little break, ISIS oversees crowded classrooms in its de facto capitals of Raqqa, Syria; Mosul, Iraq, and Nangarhar province in Afghanistan,” the report notes. In Nangarhar, Islamic State loyalists control eight schools and religious seminaries. Children in these schools learn only the propaganda taught by Islamic State teachers, which VoA notes are still being paid by the Afghan government. “Afghan education officials told VOA that they are aware of the IS schools but would not comment on reports that the teachers continue to be paid by the Afghan government while teaching at IS schools,” VoA’s reporters write.
ISIS also reportedly controls dozens of schools throughout Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, its two regional capitals. The report does not mention whether Islamic State elements have been able to impose jihadist curricula in Libya, where three competing governments are vying for power over ISIS, al-Qaeda, and a number of rogue militias.
Teachers speaking to VoA from within ISIS-controlled territories say they fear the next generation of jihadis even more than the last, because they have been indoctrinated from such a young age.
“The next generation will be more radicalized regardless of continued (IS) presence in Syria and Iraq,” a teacher identified as Wajiha from Syria says in the report. “They put children into classes where they learn how to use weapons. … Teachers who protest the IS education system will be arrested or even killed if they insist on refusing the system,” Ismat Rajab, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s headquarters in Mosul, said.
The Islamic State has made child indoctrination – and the use of child soldiers – a cornerstone of the construction of the “Caliphate” since its inception. Reports indicate children under its control begin indoctrination training as young as three years old. Children in these schools are regularly recorded pledging allegiance to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, their images to later be used in global ISIS propaganda surfacing online. Some videos have even featured “Caliphate Cubs” performing beheadings on camera.
Children are quickly desensitized to the extreme violence common in jihad in this way, beheading “infidels” and playing soccer with the decapitated heads.
As American and Russian airstrikes reduce the foreign jihadi population of the Islamic State, jihadists have increasingly forced children to fight as soldiers or commit suicide bombings. “Reports that we’re getting from the ground that there are more and more defectors, but also that increasingly Daesh [ISIS] is relying on child soldiers,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in March.
Parents of children rescued from the Islamic State have reported that their children have, on occasion, fully internalized the propaganda they have received and become a threat to their parents, as they were taught to kill all who oppose the Islamic State’s conquests.
It is uncertain how many children are under Islamic State control. A recent report estimated the child population of Fallujah, Iraq, alone to be around 20,000, while a March 2015 report suggests there are up to 31,000 pregnant girls and women in the Caliphate.