Photo showing a boy who joined up with Ahrar al-Sham, a Syrian jihadist group. The photo is a screenshot from one of the organisation’s propaganda videos.
Children and teenagers have been front-row witnesses of the Syrian uprising from the very beginning, as participants in both pro and anti-Assad protests. But as civil war has engulfed the country, they have become actors in the conflict in their own right. Three local activists tell us how the war has ensnared these youths.
The Syrian rebellion started in March 2011 after schoolchildren were arrested and tortured for drawing revolutionary graffiti. In the next several weeks, many people took their children to peaceful protests. Videos show many children on their parents’ shoulders, holding signs and chanting slogans along with their elders.
But the regime’s brutal repression of these protests only worsened, and the conflict became increasingly militarised, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people. Youths have become more and more involved in the fighting and can be seen bearing arms in many videos shared on various social media sites, some of which are clearly propaganda.
Examples abound. A video
from early 2012 features a 15-year old boy fighting in the Hama region. He had recently lost both his father and brother.
The screenshot above is taken from a video in which a boy who looks to be at most 10 years old was filmed on the front lines in Deir Ezzor, alongside a man who introduced himself as his father. But such cases are rare. Most underage fighters are teenagers.
In a report
published on November 29, 2013, Human Rights Watch condemned armed groups’ use of children in the conflict. The report claims that rebels use children as young as 14 to keep watch as well as carry weapons and food, and that 16-year-olds have borne arms and actively participated in combat.
In this screenshot taken from a video, fighters from the Tawhid brigade in Aleppo talk to a boy who had allegedly been sent by the Syrian authorities to spy on them.
Other children have been used for propaganda. For instance, the boy in the screenshot above, from a village near the border with Turkey, was filmed praising Al-Qaeda as well as the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. He also called for the murder of Shiites [a branch of Islam to which Al-Assad belongs] in several videos.
Some minors have been working as nurses
to care for the injured in field hospitals. The spokesman for UNICEF in Jordan, Alexis Masciarelli, told FRANCE 24 that some of the refugee children his organisation helps, who had fled Syria, had worked as first-aid responders there.