SOHR exclusive | Ignored and shunned by international community: What awaits ISIS children?
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented the death of 383 children under the age of eighteen in 2021, including seven were killed by the terrorist ISIS organisation. In addition, SOHR has documented scores of incidents of recruitment of children who have been and driven into to armed factions and formations under the pretext of “defending land and honour.” The Syrian Observatory has been monitoring and tracking such practices for years and could disclose the blatant violations against the rights of children by all warring parties in Syria. SOHR has been all along warning against involving children into military conflicts.
Recruitment of children in the ranks of the so-called “Caliphate Cubs” has produced an extremist generation believing in the terrorist ideology which had been instilled into innocent children. While these children have ended up in prisons or were killed in operations they had been entrusted to carry out. SOHR has been all along warning against the use of children in battles designed to settle political disputes by parties seeking to achieve only “selfish and narrow” interests.
However, all international powers seem indifferent to the threats posed by the terrorists’ children, who have been raised on the same ideology, in several areas around the world, especially in Syria and Iraq. Thousands of these children are held in several refugee camps in Syria, Al-Hawl camp in particular, where experts see that these growing numbers in refugee camps have turned them into “ticking bombs” that cannot be ignored. On the other hand, international organisations and governments continue their inaction and do not exert tangible efforts to reach a solution bringing these threats to an end.
Despite the announcement by the Counter-ISIS International Coalition command on the elimination of the “Islamic State” in 2019, successive attacks and developments on the ground in the Arab region and Africa prove that the organisation has not been fully defeated, amid indications of possible revival in the Syrian desert and in other areas in Iraq and Africa. Strict measures are needed to stop ISIS’ growing threats and rehabilitate its young recruits and help them to get rid of any extremist and vengeful ideologies.
Children of ISIS members born in harsh conditions
Living conditions of children of ISIS families in camps in Syria have been deteriorating amid concern about the fate of those children, while official statistics pointed out to the fact that over 700 minors have been imprisoned since 2019, because their parents had been ISIS members. These children are held in wings specified for children in some prisons, so that they will not mingle with senior commanders and fighters of the “Islamic State,” especially since commanders and fighters in Al-Hawl and Ghuwayran prisons are attempting to “brainwash” these children. It is worth noting that Ghuwayran prison is the largest prison complex in the region, and it is supervised by the Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria. In late January 2022, that prison had been captured by ISIS for five days during its deadliest large-scale attack after the announcement of its elimination in 2019. SDF regained control of the prison following fierce clashes which saw the participation of Coalition forces. Several human rights organisations warned, at that time, against the possible death of tens of children during the operation of regaining the control of the prison. However, SDF confirmed that no children of those held in the prison were hurt.
Children of ISIS families suffer from hunger and poverty, and they have also been deprived of education, while international powers continue to abdicate all responsibility in the case of repatriation their little citizens (children of foreign ISIS members).
“Save the Children” organisation has announced that 18,000 Iraqi children and 7,300 others from 60 countries are held and stranded in the camps of Al-Hawl and Al-Rouj in north Syria. According to SOHR statistics, Al-Hawl camp hosts over 60,000 people, mostly children and women, among them are nearly 10,000 women and children of ISIS families.
Regional and international human rights organisations are worried about the “emergence” of an entire generation of “terrorists” under the “Caliphate Cubs,” where children of this formation have trained on using various and advanced weapons, especially with the inaction of the international community regarding breaking the deadlock in Syria, reaching a political settlement and putting an end to the violations committed by the terrorist organisations.
Moreover, observers are concerned about the repercussions of ignoring this “illiterate generation” which has been trained on using weapons.
Calls for rehabilitation of children of ISIS families
Several bodies have been calling for establishing centres for rehabilitation of children of ISIS families, after evacuating them from Al-Hawl camp and Al-Hasakah prison in north Syria. Such a step needs international cooperation, provision of support and securing of capabilities in order to help these children who were supposed to attain education at schools and institutions, not to be held in prisons specified to terrorists.
On the other hand, concerns are raised over the ongoing “ideologisation” and recruitment, especially since ISIS has recently escalated its operations in the Syrian desert. For years, ISIS has concentrated on the recruitment of children who are impressionable, can be lured easily, and have capability to learn new things faster than adults, so ISIS can exploit these children in armed attacks and suicidal operations.
Several reports have pointed out to the fact that ISIS continues using hundreds of children as fighters in order to keep its “dark” ideology alive as long as possible. These practices absolutely contravene the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Despite the ongoing efforts to establish centres for rehabilitation and education, experts have warned that the children who have been dictated extremist beliefs will pose a threat to the security situation in Syria and neighbouring countries, unless they are properly rehabilitated.
Victims of conflicts
It is common knowledge the children of ISIS families are victims of the Syrian war and cannot be accused of “terrorism and extremism,” even if they have been raised by extremists. All relevant actors have to intensify their efforts to make sure that education replaces the policy of violence and criminality which some of these children follow, so that they can break new ground.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) emphasises that the responsibility for this issue, the rehabilitation of these children, falls to local, regional, international and UN actors and powers, and that repatriation of children of fighters with foreign citizenship is a case of national, Arab and foreign security. All countries should not abandon their innocent young citizens who are held in camps in north Syria or leave them to fall victims again to conflicts they have nothing to do with.
We, at SOHR, renew our calls upon international bodies to provide humanitarian assistance to these children and agree on a strategy designed to help these little victims and all victims of the Syrian war to enjoy decent standards of living away from death, destruction, poverty and terrorism.
We also appeal to human rights organisations to prioritise addressing this issue in order to save the lives of innocent people in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all relevant charters.