“Some have been pressured to take part in attacks”
The youngest fighter that I have seen to date was 16 years old and did not take part in combat. His role was to help other fighters by reloading their AK-47s or by carrying messages between different lookouts along the demarcation lines in the Mayssaloun neighborhood, which I have been covering since the beginning of the conflict.On the other side, the Syrian army has been sending children into rebel-held zones to inspect their defense systems, count the number of fighters in the streets, see how well-armed they are, etc. I have seen children approach the demarcation lines. In general, they are street children or even Nawads [a term for nomadic people who live at the edges of society in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.] These children were pretending to be going through the trash in search of items to sell. But their aim was to place electronic chips in the areas near the rebel command. [The alleged goal being to help the regime’s air force target these areas during take part in in or help during attacks.
“This generation of Syrians is being sacrificed”
The war has taken over our lives, so much so that we find ourselves in terrible situations where we cannot prevent children from taking part in the conflict. These are the very children who participated in the protests with their parents two years ago, who have now become warriors. Many of them have also become orphans.I have seen 14- and 15-year olds trying their hardest to help the rebels. There are perplexing cases, like that is a 13-year old girl who lost her entire family and her house in the fighting in Daraya [a Damascus neighbourhood] and who refuses to leave for a safer place [the Daraya area has been completely destroyed]. We have tried to get her out several times, but each time she goes back with even more determination to help the rebels who are stationed there. It’s her way of staying true to her family.“A 16-year old orphan became the leader of a unit, commanding several men”In this same neighborhood, a 16-year old orphan became the leader of a unit. He commands several men. These situations are simply inexplicable; they can only occur during wartime. This boy, like so many others, should be in school. But all the schools in the rebel zones have been targeted and destroyed by the regime.These children believe it is their duty to share in their parents’ suffering. The concept of staying idle in refugee camps is unbearable to them. In fact, many run away from the camps to reunite with fathers or uncles who have stayed behind to fight.The rebels’ propaganda, as well as that of the regime, play a role here. Calls to arm and hateful discourse have become increasingly common, and children are even more vulnerable to it than adults.Even if children’s involvement in the conflict remains limited in scope, we have asked the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters in our area to forbid them from joining their ranks. They agreed, and provided us with detailed lists of the names, ages, and birthplaces of children who had fought with them in the past. Together with other activists, and in coordination with the Free Syrian Army, we have been organising awareness-raising campaigns. We have been trying to create welcome centers and makeshift schools in more or less stable areas. In contrast, jihadist units are more reticent to share this kind of information with us, which makes things substantially more difficult for us.Khan, 16 years old, joined the ranks of a jihadist group in Aleppo.
On the regime’s side, we have been seeing the same problem. There is virulent hate-filled rhetoric and a militarization of the Alawi youth that will most certainly have very harmful long-term effects. This entire generation of Syrians, of all religions, is being sacrificed.