Child Soldiers of Syria and Iraq

Parents who don’t let their kids just be kids is a common occurrence throughout different cultures across many continents. I am not necessarily talking about militias or countries in a state of war, either. A simple family nucleus where the mother manipulates her children against their father, or vice versa, may just as well be a good example. A child is a blank page and very easy to manipulate. That’s because they haven’t yet developed the mental capacity necessary to differentiate between good and evil, and they are fully trustful of grown-ups, taking shelter under their guidance.

Going back to our subject, militarily speaking, the most suitable, and thus the most dangerous, age group are adolescents (13-18 years of age). This group tends to think of themselves as almost-grown-ups, to act impulsively and to rebel against their parents or any authority for that matter. This is a completely natural period where the body, its extremities, and its organs go through a rapid rate of growth, and the hormones are excreted plentifully despite the fact that the subject is still psychologically a child. The psychology of the adolescent child is crucial here as the increase in the release of hormones means more aggressive behavior and general disregard for rules and morals. As a result, certain individuals with real or perceived authority can easily abuse these weaknesses.

This is not simply a contemporary problem; there are many well-known examples of such situations throughout history. When we look at the riots during the 18 th and 19th centuries, we always see the youth at the frontline suffering the heaviest losses. It would be naïve to think that youth would act this way without a push from adults who are constantly behind the scenes; scheming, manipulating and pulling the marionette strings. When we look at World War II and Hitler’s “Jugend”, we see an analogous scenario. There is a reason why the Nazis ran military camps of children and regarded them as important: because in war all is fair. There is also the added advantage of being able to convince children to perform acts that the adults couldn’t carry out. Once the children were brainwashed and indoctrinated within these camps, they would be prepared to do whatever was asked of them with no red lines and no possibility of any objections.

Today, all-out wars are much less frequent. Instead, we have proxy wars executed through terrorism which may well be more dangerous, less humane, less organized, and thus, less predictable in their moves and strategy. A few of today’s sinister factions are the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIL, PKK/PYD, American and European neo-Nazis along with other international militia groups. We are bombarded with news of these organizations where they move discreetly utilizing the Internet and social media, and in many cases, kidnapping children to turn them into terrorists.
Children, for these groups, are not an objective but simply a tool. Children are both cheap labor and easy to manipulate. They know very well how to shape gullible children into useful weapons to be used in times of need.
States are generally ineffective in stopping these practices through policy. The power to prevent the influence of fundamentalist groups recruiting children must come from the families. Parental and institutional education plays a crucial role here. Children should be fostered and guided positively by benevolent family members and communities. It is unfortunate that today, it falls on our shoulders to protect our children and ourselves.

These reports by Human Rights Watch on Syrian Armed Groups, Iraqi Armed Groups and the report by the Turkish Ministry of Interior show no progress in addressing this crime nor does it promise any decrease in the utilization of child soldiers in proxy wars.

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