The use of child soldiers by the Islamic State represents one of the gravest situations on earth for children. In the Islamic State's continued struggle for a caliphate, child soldiers are not only being used and sacrificed regularly as part of the war, but children are also being trained and indoctrinated to ensure the conflict endures far into the future.
The international community is just beginning to understand the implications that the recruitment and use of child soldiers will have in the region for years to come. More than just an immediate tragedy, the Islamic State is building the foundation for generational conflict through the continued use of children as weapons of war.
The Quilliam Foundation, with the collaboration of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and UNESCO, released its report, "The Children of the Islamic State" in the British Parliament today. The report chronicles the prolific use of children by the Islamic State. The key findings of this research are both sobering and damning.
Some 31,000 women are currently pregnant inside the Islamic State. These children born out of conflict will form the future ranks of the group. School curriculum is being altered and reshaped to support extremism and strict adherence to the Islamic State's view of religion and philosophy. Children are desensitized to violence and trained for combat from an early age.
The Islamic State has carefully crafted its image and children serve as a central role in its overall narrative. The "Cubs of the Caliphate" are meant inspire other young people living under the Islamic State to take up arms and instill horror in those who will confront them on the battlefield.
Western politicians have used this narrative of children used as soldiers, coupled with photos of thousands fleeing, as a way to justify and galvanize support for military action to end the threat of the Islamic State once and for all. But it is critical we look beyond these images and the narrative that the Islamic State has driven so far and understand what we will need to consider in any response in the region.
Beyond a social and economic issue, the use of children as weapons of war represents a distinct security dilemma. Yet as an international community we have often overlooked the security concerns the use of child soldiers present.
The Islamic State has used children both tactically and strategically. Children continue to be deployed as spies, porters, in sexual servitude, as suicide bombers and executioners. In order for any security response in the region to be successful, we will need to prepare to face these threats and react appropriately. Through training, the security sector can undertake a preventative role that can ultimately protect children from recruitment.
Organizations including NATO and the Canadian Armed Forces have recognized the special threat that child soldiers represent and are working with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative to address deficiencies in doctrine, tools or training.
For those children who already swell the ranks of ISIS, special preparation for rehabilitation must be made. While every instance of rehabilitation must be tailored to each conflict where child soldiers are used, the context that children have found themselves while with ISIS will demand new approaches. These considerations include facilitating deradicalisation procedures that aim to bring children out of the lifestyle they were exposed to. This must be coupled with counter narrative work on debunking the credibility of ISIS ideology which will need to be replaced with positive alternatives.
Yet no intervention will succeed if we do not realize the need for long term investments in solutions to the current conflict. As a generational conflict, that has torn the very fabric of society in the region apart, we will surely fail if we think we can succeed in stitching these children's lives back together in the near term.