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Child soldiers and child terrorists

Small Arms. Children and Terrorism
IS / We can not immediately compare the children from Islamic State with child soldiers, analyzes American terrorist researcher. Many of them no longer consider themselves children. Turning the time back to becoming regular school students again therefore seems almost impossible.


As the phenomenon goes child soldiers far back in time. Frederik the Great of Prussia sent many children out in the front row when his troops turned with the Russians during the Battle of Zorndorf in August 1758. The king has even gone down in history with the battle cry "Come children, die with me for the fatherland!" .

The Nazis put children into the fight for Berlin in the last desperate weeks of World War II, and the Iranians used children as cannon fodder in the war against Iraq in the 1980s. In Africa and elsewhere on the planet, child soldiers are still a sad part of everyday life.

Islamic State (IS) did the same. In several cases, we saw minors execute so-called enemies on the movement's nauseating propaganda film. Children were an important part of the recruitment base. But it would be an insinuation to call them child soldiers. The sight of 10-year-old Colombian boys in full military uniform makes it turn into one, but according to the American terrorist researcher My Bloom they are in a number of areas essentially different from their peer combatants from Islamic State.

The children were lived into a new reality where it was considered normal to
cut the throat of another human being.

She has chosen to address this in her latest book, which is a thorough analysis of a large number of groups, including both Tamil tigers in Sri Lanka and Maoists in Nepal, and it demonstrates how child terrorists, as she describes them, belong to a different and in many ways far more dangerous category. And in doing so, she draws attention to a streak of issues that are relevant in the current debate on how to re-lock children from Islamic State into society.

Parents played an important role

If we focus specifically on IS, it is important that childrenone had different backgrounds. Some were children of local soldiers, others of foreign soldiers. There were children who had been found in local hospitals and orphanages and then forced into the movement, and finally there were children whom IS had forced parents to hand over to service.

It is a mixed group that in many ways is markedly different from, for example, child soldiers in Rwanda or Congo. Typically, the African child soldiers have lost everything, as their village has been wiped out and their parents killed. For them, military service is often the only resort, whereas the children of IS actually had an alternative. Although the parents may have supported their search for the radical milieus, they found themselves in a normative society with choices other than those of an African war zone. And this helps make their case far more complex. Mia Bloom lists five points:


Particularly in Syria and Iraq, which were geographically home to IS, parents played an important role in the children's path into the movement. Many saw the caliphate as a sustainable future and encouraged the children to attend the recruiting meetings that were held.

This intervenes in the next point, which is the use of drugs and alcohol. Among the child soldiers, this is a widespread practice. In Sierra Leone, children were pumped with a mixture of gunpowder and cocaine and rinsed with palm wine. In Burma, it was on heroin. IS went the exact opposite way. Here there was absolutely no use of narcotics. This became an important part of the considerations of Muslim parents in the Western world – many lived in the notion that a straightforward Islamic way of life would thus save children from many of the temptations that are part of life in European cities.

Recruitment and socialization

That is why education and training are of the utmost importance. Among the child soldiers, this element largely does not exist. The child soldiers rank at the bottom of the military hierarchy, and they are often used as cannon fodder, as was the case in Iran. In the Congo, on several occasions, they were deliberately put into attack on their own tribe or village, thereby being barred from deserting because revenge awaited them out in civilian life.

The caliphate has deliberately turned the children's social hierarchy upside down.

IS was far more cunning in the socialization of the children, and the same applies to similar groups as Talked in Pakistan and to some extent Boko Haram in Nigeria. The path into the movement was gradual and carefully planned. The first step was participation in youth clubs, followed by mass meetings where the children could admire peers in full military uniform. In most cases, the children did not understand the radical ideology, but repeated the slogans, and meanwhile the indoctrination continued with the presentation of escalating violence. The children were lived into a new reality where it was considered normal to cut the throat of another human being.

The role of the movement therefore became important. Instead of just being unconscious cannon fodder, the children of the caliphate were valued. The best of them were placed in small units where they served on an equal footing with the adult soldiers. The management knew that the children were far less likely to get cold feet when they were out in the first line of battle, and thus they had a colossal psychological impact on the adults, who feared not to prove less brave than the minors out on the battlefield. .

Finally, there is the Islamic State's use of girls, which is also an almost unknown size among the child soldiers. Girls were widely used in recruitment, and many also traveled to the caliphate to marry. This helped to give life in Islamic State an alluring tinge of normality.


All of this is among the ingredients of the hard nut to crack to get the kids resocialized. As a starting point, there are globally very different definitions of a child and at what age the child is considered an adult. In many places in Africa, childhood largely does not exist, and not at all in the idyllic version of the Western imaginary world. Mia Bloom therefore emphasizes that the difference between an African childhood and life as a child soldier is often not that great.

Girls were widely used in recruitment, and many also went to the caliphate to
get married.

Therefore, we can not use the experience from here for quite a lot. The children of the caliphate with a European background took a huge psychological leap into their new lives, and studies actually show that they had a socio-economically safer background than the average. The way back is therefore long and complicated.

Thus, one of the major challenges is to the caliphate has deliberately turned the children's social hierarchy upside down through effective schooling. They have been the subject of great admiration and recognition, and as they have learned that it is perfectly normal to execute an adult enemy, they have had an impact on life and death. Many of them no longer consider themselves children. To turn back time and turn them into ordinary schoolchildren from normative families therefore seems almost impossible. Especially because many of the children have subsequently described the time in Islamic State as a good experience.

These are challenges that Western institutions may have to deal with. But in Syria, where, according to information from the Syrian American Medical Society before the war, there were five experts in child psychiatry and today none, the task may prove impossible.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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