Middle East

IS increases use of child soldiers, says US report

Image purportedly showing young boys known as the "lion cubs" holding rifles and Islamic State flags as they exercise at an IS training camp in Tal Afar, northern Iraq (27 September 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption The UN has accused IS of abusing children on a massive scale

The number of children who have died fighting for so-called Islamic State (IS) in the last year is nearly twice the previous estimate, a report says.

Researchers at Georgia State University tracked IS propaganda and eulogies over 13 months.

The propaganda claimed 89 boys aged eight to 18 had been killed fighting in a number of different combat roles.

The researchers also found that three times as many children were involved in operations than during 2014.

The data, published by the US military's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, suggested that between January 2015 and January 2016, 39% of the boys were killed in suicide car bombings and 33% in battle.

"There are almost certainly many more who have died," Charlie Winter, one of the report's co-authors, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme. "This is just what IS has made public over the last year."


Although IS itself did not provide real names and biographical details for those killed, the researchers were able to estimate the ages and nationalities of those killed.

They believe 60% were aged between 12 and 16, while 6% aged between eight and 12.

Media captionQuentin Sommerville: "They witnessed killing close at hand"

Some 18% of the boys died in attacks in which they did not have any intention of survival - so-called "inghimasis" - derived from the Arabic "to plunge". This infers these boys "plunged" behind enemy lines firing openly on the enemy until they themselves were killed.

One of the youngest suicide bombers was classed as "pre-adolescent," between the ages of eight and 12. He was killed last month in Aleppo province, in a suicide attack on a rebel target. IS published a photograph of him saying goodbye to his father.

The report also sheds some light on the amount of movement by children between Iraq and Syria - the two countries where IS predominates. More than half of all the deaths were in Iraq - but many of those killed were Syrian. This suggests IS is able to train child fighters in Syria and deploy them to Iraq.

Others killed were from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Libya, and a small number from the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Nigeria.

The research also seems to suggest that IS uses children alongside adults, rather than for specialist operations.

Mr Winter said it was striking that IS's children and youth operated in ways similar to the adults.

"In other conflicts, the use of child soldiers may represent a strategy of last resort, as a way to rapidly replace battlefield losses, or in specialised operations for which adults may be less effective. However, in the context of IS, children are used in much the same ways as their elders," he said.

Mr Winter said the number of children being recruited by IS was worrying.

"There is no way that we can envisage a post-IS world, unless we can really think carefully about how we are going to demobilise, disarm and reintegrate these children into normal life. There aren't really any good precedents for a violent extremist organisation like IS indoctrinating children on such a wide scale.

"As the military pressure against IS increases, I would expect that there would be an acceleration of the amount that it is using children."

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:15 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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