Syrian rebels are enlisting teenagers as young as 15 to fight against the Assad regime, according to Human Rights Watch. The watchdog group has called on foreign governments to not support rebels who enlist children.
In a report published on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Syria's rebel groups to ban the recruitment of child soldiers and called on foreign governments to end their support for groups implicated in the practice.
Rebels groups across the ideological spectrum have recruited child soldiers, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, and Kurdish forces.
HRW interviewed 25 children for its report, entitled #link:http://www.hrw.org/node/126639:"Maybe We Live and Maybe We Die."# The children fought in battles, served as snipers, manned checkpoints, spied on hostile forces, treated the wounded, and delivered ammunition and supplies to the battlefield.
The report does not cover pro-government militias for logistical and security reasons, according to HRW.
Child suicide bombers
Extremist Islamist groups such as ISIS have lured children into their ranks by offering them free education that includes weapons training. Some of these children have been turned into suicide bombers.
"Syrian armed groups shouldn't prey on vulnerable children - who have seen their relatives killed, schools shelled, and communities destroyed - by enlisting them in their forces," said Priyanka Motaparthy, HRW's Middle East children's rights researcher and the author of the report.
"The horrors of Syria's armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines," he said.
'Complicit in war crimes'
HRW interviewed Free Syrian Army (FSA) commanders who said they continue to recruit child soldiers, despite claims from the FSA's leadership that they have banned the practice.
Kurdish forces have announced a plan to demobilize all child soldiers under the age of 18 within a month.
HRW called on foreign donors to halt all military sales to groups in Syria who recruit child soldiers.
"Governments supporting armed groups in Syria need to press these forces to end child recruitment and use of children in combat," Motaparthy said. "Anyone providing funding for sending children to war could be complicit in war crimes."
slk/kms (AP, AFP)