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Child Soldiers In Syria: Sick Mascots or the New Face of Jihad?

Young kids with AK-47s. Really young. As in toddlers. Some of the rebels in Syria's civil war think it's cute

Some of the pro-Assad forces are using the pictures of very young children with guns to try and paint the rebels as barbarians. The reality is that more and more pictures of Syrian children with heavy weaponry are popping up on Facebook and it’s becoming clear that many of the kids are now active combatants. Just look at the videos below.

“There’s no doubt that young teenagers are getting sucked into this,” Joshua Landis, Director of OU’s Center for Middle East Studies, tells Vocativ. “And they’re volunteering.

While some child soldiers in Syria call themselves volunteers, often they are manipulated by adults into fighting. A 2012 UNICEF report finds that the number of child soldiers has increased around the world because the men driving armed conflicts realize children are “more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers…and they usually don’t demand pay.”

But they are still children. In this video below, a young rebel has just seen a comrade killed. An older fighter comforts the child as he cries and gathers himself before rejoining others on patrol.

“They aren’t protected from adulthood the way [children] are in the West. When you look at Facebook, you see the eagerness of these young teenagers to get involved and be like their older brothers, their fathers,” says Landis. “I think most of them are playing dress-up, but not all of them. [For those] 15 and older — there will be a place for them. All of these town militias — there will be a place for them.”

Photos on Facebook also show Syrian kids handling very high caliber weaponry.

The Arabic caption on this photo claims that this young man is an active fighter in the Free Syrian Army.

Syrian children 7

Pro-Assad fighters. (wasn’t able to fix photo)

While many photos purport to show young fighters, in some videos children are clearly being used as propaganda for either side in Syria’s Civil War.

In this video, older rebels prompt a young boy with a fully tricked-out AK-47 to say why he loves the Free Syrian Army. His response: “because they defend the people against Bashar al-Assad.”

This video shows an even younger boy sitting on a car wielding a gun, surrounded by heavily armed rebels, leading them in an “Allah Akhbar” (God is Great) chant.

Imitating rebels, the young boy is announcing “the establishment of the brigade of the youngest warriors.” 

Syrian children 2

The caption reads: “If the men are gone, our children are present.” Wasn’t able to fix

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Syrian children 4

This photo, found on the Douma Revolution Tumblr, says “end of games and time to free Syria and fight the Jihad in Allah’s way.” wasn’t able to fix 

There are also shots that give a glimpse into what everyday life is like for Syrians who are not actively fighting. Children in the street playing simulated war games in a live war zone are a normal occurrence in a conflict that has incited chaos for over two years.

Syrian children 8

The boys are holding toy guns, but the signs declare a very real agenda: “The defenders of Old Aleppo Road”

Syrian children 9

The caption reads: “A martyr’s son promises that he will revenge for his father.”

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“One of the games played by our children these days,” in the Al-Hamedeya neighborhood of Homs.

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Children in Aljabila neighborhood playing with a shell.

The Syrian war is a magnet for global jihadis, Muslims who believe they are called to war by God. The day after the revolution ends in Syria —  what happens to the children? Will they move on to one of the next battlegrounds, in Afghanistan or North Africa, becoming the next generation of warmongerers? What happens after a child grows up with jihad as his defining experience? Is it possible to shed the psychological distress and violent habits?

"The theory is that a bullet coming from a fourteen year old is just as effective as one from a forty year old."

Andre Batiste

A quarter million child soldiers are fighting around the world right now, according to Human Rights Watch. Child soldiers in Uganda, Mozambique and elsewhere have been able to shake off the brutality of their past and lead successful lives. Whatever the repercussions, the gun-toting teens won’t be going away anytime soon: as the fictionalized dictator Andre Batiste explains in the film “Lord of War,” “the theory is that a bullet coming from a fourteen year old is just as effective as one from a forty year old.”

Respond Now
  • The west will never understand what brings you to such a low point. it’s easy to criticize sitting in the other side of the world, it’s different when the only reality you know is bombs, tanks and body parts

  • I hate to be contrarian, but all this outrage is a bit ethnocentric insofar as we have no idea what it would be like to have one’s nation ravaged by an insurgent-led civil war. Do you really think that at least certain “young teenagers” in America would not also volunteer to fight beside their elders if we were facing a comparable situation? Absent evidence that Syrian children are being forcefully conscripted into battle, I fail to see any basis for getting worked up over what is depicted in this article. I particularly take issue with the insinuation that the Syrian civil war will brainwash the youth of Syria into becoming lifelong jihadists. If we want to see the “next generation of warmongerers,” we–as Americans–likely need do nothing more than look in the mirror. Finally, as much as I abhor the fetishization of firearms, that is hardly something unique to the Middle East; there are ample photographs of American children posing with weapons of mass death that you can find within a few seconds using Google. Why is it that if we hand a kid in the United States a semi-automatic rifle, he’s a Real American, but when Syrian parents do them same thing, they are branded as terrorists?

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • No my friend, I don’t think that such photo will be typical only to the Syrian conflict. It doesn’t turn this into legitimate propaganda, this is a disgusting usage of kids for a terrible agenda, in Syria or in another place.
      Yes, American kids with weapons is also a common content on the internet, though it doesn’t turn this phenomena into something legitimate at all. A kid with a gun in the US isn’t a ‘REAL AMERICAN’, but rather a kid with idiot parents.

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