The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Spotlight: Give Syrian kids hope, not helplessness to fight in battles

DAMASCUS, March 24 (Xinhua) — In Syria, a country that has suffered greatly from the past four years of ferocious civil war and constant strife, children, who should have been comforted with hope, have been edging ever closer to helplessness.

It is true that some of the kids can still grow up in supportive families, yet many others have been trained as fighters as the crisis-ridden country entered the fifth year of seemingly endless violence and chaos.

Jawdat Tayfur, a sixth grade student, said he would never think of handling a weapon, even though he came from a conflict zone under rebel control in eastern Damascus.

To run for life, the 11-year-old said his father moved the family out of Jobar neighborhood as the situation there was getting worse.

“We have seen so much destruction and blood in Jobar and decided to leave. As we were leaving, I found a dead body tossed on the street and I turned to my father and asked him why people died like that? Wrapping his arm around my shoulder, he told me it wasn’t our business and pulled me away,” Tayfur recounted.

The boy said his father tried his best to take their minds off of the war, and promised him about a nice future if they excelled in school.

Tayfur, despite losing his house and having to work in a restaurant to help raise his family, is lucky to have such caring parents. Many others were not.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that over 400 children under 18 years of age have been recruited by the Islamic State (IS) militant group since the beginning of this year.

The UK-based watchdog group said most of the recruitment was from eastern parts of the country, namely in Deir al-Zour province, where IS militants enjoy considerable sway.

IS has been working hard to recruit children who live close to its branch offices.

The militant group never care whether those children seeking to have or have not the consent of their parents. Sometimes, it even forced parents to send their children to its training camps.

In the camps, children have to learn in ideological courses the group’s credo and how to fight in battles, according to the Observatory.

To keep these children around, the IS lured them with financial rewards.

According to the Observatory, around 140 armed children under the age of 18 were sent to fight in the predominantly Kurdish city of Ayn al-Arab in northern Syria against Kurdish fighters last January.

Moreover, videos of children training and shouting sectarian slogans have gone viral over the Internet. Even those in school have been deprived of normal curriculums, as IS abolished government curriculums and textbooks, replacing them with materials teaching Islamic sharia according to IS understanding.

“I think children should not handle weapons. This must change because our country is beautiful. I think that stress has forced people to resort to weapons but I personally wouldn’t ever think of holding one myself,” Tayfur told Xinhua.

“I love peace. I hate weapons, destruction or blood. I despise it as I have become fed up with it. I say to children who were forced to handle weapons that this choice will hurt you,” he continued.

Many other children at Tayfur’s school said they dream of becoming somebody as they grow up, despite the challenges facing their families, mainly economic ones.

Still, hopes of becoming doctors and engineers dominate at the capital’s schools.

Twelve year old Ranim Idris said her family are doing their best to furnish her with an environment conducive for studying.

“I would like to become a doctor, that’s why I study so hard. My family has been my inspiration. They are doing everything within their means to help me become an accomplished individual when I grow up,” she said.

“I pray for an end to the suffering of children stuck in battle zones so they could return to school and develop themselves.”

Manya Jabbour, a school teacher, told Xinhua that the Syrian Ministry of Education is exerting substantial efforts to support the educational system in the war-torn country, in a bid to help students continue their education despite the difficulties.

She said psychological evaluation is offered for children who come from battle zones to help them adapt.

“We are working on creating a healthy environment for the children, organizing activities like acting, sports, and drawing to enhance their intellectual capabilities,” she said.

She added that schools in Damascus currently have programs to raise childhood awareness regarding the dangers of handling weapons.

“I feel really sorry for children who were forced to handle weapons because at the end of the day they are children. I cannot imagine what they could be capable of in the future if they are handling weapons now,” she noted.

Commenting on the use of children in armed conflict, Kumar Tiku, chief of communications of the UN Children’s Fund, said in an interview with Xinhua that using children has become a “growing trend.”

“We see children used in a variety of ways such as getting initiated into radical education of extremist interpretations of religion as well as domestically where armed groups use them for personal needs,” he said.

He stressed that the “most alarming trend is the increasing use of children in combat roles,” noting that this has “profoundly negative implications for the future of this generation of children.”

The United Nations recently said that over 10,000 children have been killed in the Syrian conflict, with many more subjected to “abominable” suffering, including rape, torture and combat recruitment. Thousands more have been forced to flee their homes due to the prolonged conflict.