Cubs of the Caliphate – rehabilitating Islamic State’s child fighters

While children who have been through war typically draw devastating pictures of the violence they have suffered, few show themselves as the perpetrators.

The suicide belts, car bombs and other explosives sketched again and again by a 14-year-old boy newly arrived at this camp in northern Iraq are the ones he built himself: used by Islamic State militants against civilians and troops in Iraq and Syria.

One image depicted him killing a man with a spray of bullets, something he said he did during three years as a child fighter forcibly conscripted by Islamic State.

Kidnapped from his Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq, he said he got used to the sound of bombs falling on Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in Syria, as security forces closed in last year.

“Here’s where I got shot fighting the SDF,” said the boy, not named to protect him from retribution, referring to the U.S.-backed rebel Syrian Defence Forces and pointing out a bullet wound on his shin.

Giving him time to draw and talk about his experience is part of a treatment programme to help him move on and protect both him and others from lasting damage.

Hundreds of children are estimated to have been used as fighters by Islamic State, including boys who joined with their families or were given up by them and the offspring of foreign fighters groomed from birth to perpetuate its ideology.

Experts have warned that indoctrinated children, who began escaping the clutches of Islamic State as its territory fractured last year, could pose an ongoing threat to security, both regionally and in the West, if they are not rehabilitated.

Treating Yazidi children, who were separated from their families and in many cases orphaned, holds particular challenges.

Source: Reuters