SYRIA

Children’s rallies: controversial new protests in Syria

 Syria’s protest movement appears to have adopted a new, controversial strategy – rallies composed only of children. In the past few weeks, several such rallies have been held in Homs, a city where the Syrian government’s repression of protests has been particularly violent. Encouraging children to protest, at the risk of their lives, may seem shocking. However, our Observer in Homs, who has a 4-year-old son, makes the case that everyone, young and old, should take part in the revolution. 

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Syria’s protest movement appears to have adopted a new, controversial strategy – anti-regime rallies composed only of children. In the past few weeks, several such rallies have been held in Homs, a city where the Syrian government’s repression of protests has been particularly violent. Encouraging children to protest, at the risk of their lives, may seem shocking. However, our Observer in Homs, who has a 4-year-old son, makes the case that everyone, young and old, should take part in the revolution.

 

While children have taken part in protests alongside adults since the beginning of the revolt in March, children-only protests seem to have become popular only recently. It is not clear if these are grassroots efforts encouraged by parents, or if they are more organised.

 

What is certain is that they are not without risks. Since the start of the protest movement, stories of boys being killed abound online. The one that has garnered the most attention is the story of Hamza Al-Khatib, 13, who protesters claim was tortured to death by Deraa’s security forces in April. Hamza has since become an icon for the revolution.

 A children's protest in the neighbourhood of Al Qaar in Homs. Video published on Youtube.

"I regularly go out to protest with my wife and 4-year-old son"

 

Waleed Fares is one of our Observers in Homs. He has filmed the revolution since it began in March.

 

Children between 7 and 16 take part in protests. Since the start of the revolution, they’ve marched alongside their elders. In the very first weeks, they started singing anti-regime slogans in schools – slogans they heard from their families or on the internet. School principals even began asking parents to come in for meetings to ask them to put an end to this.

 

The end of the holy month of Ramadan [September 30] was a good occasion for children to hold their own protests. It’s a holiday they wait for eagerly. They usually receive gifts, dress up in costumes, and take part in fun activities at school and in public areas. But this year, the army would not allow any of these activities. There are tanks in the public parks and schools have been turned into detention centres. So they celebrated in the streets, waving Syrian flags and anti-regime signs. They even came up with their own slogans, such as ‘Give us back our schools! Give us back our parks!’.A children's protest in the neighbourhood of Al Khaledia in Homs, during Ramadan festivities. Video published on Youtube.

"The most popular kids' toys are plastic machineguns"

 

Of course, some of the children don’t understand the meaning of the slogans they’re chanting. For them, it’s a game. The other day, my 4-year-old son told me: ‘The people want al-Assad’s head.’ When I asked him if he knew what that meant, he was incapable of telling me. Even the youngest of children are surrounded by the revolution. Their daily lives, like those of their parents, are centred around the protests. Right now, the most popular kids’ toys are plastic machineguns.

 

"Some parents are completely against letting their children take part in protests"

 

Of course, most parents take precautions. Children do not take part in protests on Fridays [the day of the week when the largest protests are held] because it’s too dangerous – we know that soldiers do not hesitate to arrest protesters as young as 12. Others are completely against letting their children take part in protests. Myself, I regularly go out to protest with my wife and 4-year-old son. We are ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary for this bloodthirsty regime to fall.”

 

What do you think of letting children participate in protests? Tell us in the comments section below.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Mahamadou Sawaneh.