Boys as young as 15 recruited to fight in Syria, says Human Rights Watch

Children have taken part in battles, acted as spies, manned checkpoints and ferried ammunition to front lines


Insurgents have recruited boys as young as 15 to fight against the army in Syria’s civil war, deploying them as soldi- ers, snipers and suicide bombers, and employing children of 14 in support roles, according to Human Rights Watch.

Radical fundamentalist factions, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), have “specifically recruited children through free schooling campaigns that include weapons training, and have given them dangerous tasks, including suicide bombing missions”, the organisation writes in a 31-page report, Maybe We Live and Maybe We Die: Recruitment and Use of Children by Armed Groups in Syria.


US-based NGO Human Rights Watch interviewed 25 children who fought with the western-backed Free Syrian Army; Saudi-sponsored Islamic Front; extremist Isis; al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra; and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s military and police forces, in which girls are also called upon to serve. Despite renouncing the practice, the Free Syrian Army continues to sign up and deploy minors.

The children interviewed had taken part in battles, acted as spies, manned checkpoints, and ferried ammunition and supplies to front lines. Some said they joined armed groups because relatives or friends had done so. Some lived in war zones. Others had taken part in protests and had been detained and abused by government forces.

The number of children taking part in the conflict is not known, but a Syrian monitoring group said it had documented 194 deaths of combatant male children since September 2011.

‘Few options’

Children who said they wished to leave armed groups told Human Rights Watch they had “few options” in civilian life and no support system.

“Saleh” (17) said he joined the Free Syrian Army and then served with two other groups. “I thought of leaving a lot. I lost my studies, I lost my future, I lost everything.”

Human Rights Watch recommends that all Syrian armed groups should “ban the recruitment and use of children, and demobilise all fighters or helpers under 18”. It says governments and donors should suspend assistance to forces using child soldiers.