An estimated 4640 children travelled to Iraq or Syria, either alone or with their families, to join the so-called Islamic State (ISIL). Since the fall of the terrorist group, many of them live in displacement camps under deplorable conditions. They have not only been victims of recruitment or trafficking, but also witnessed extreme violence and indoctrination. We call on State authorities for an urgent response to guarantee their rights.
Before and after the proclamation of the caliphate of the so-called Islamic State in 2014, people from over 80 countries travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the terrorist group. Taken unwillingly or recruited, children have been used to carry weapons, guard strategic locations, arrest civilians, but have also been subject to sexual violence, forced marriage, or were exploited in suicide bombings.
With the defeat of ISIL, their nightmare is not over: in the al-Hol camp in Northern Syria which hosts most of the displaced people from ISIL occupied territories and relatives of ISIL fighters, 371 children died in 2019 as a result of the deplorable living conditions.
The right to return
Regardless of their role, of whether they had been recruited or their parents were involved with ISIL, these children have rights set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. States who have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict have the obligation to demobilise children recruited by these groups and assume their reintegration into the society.
We call on all authorities to accept their international responsibility for their citizens by repatriating them, especially children. States must facilitate their rehabilitation and recovery. They must ensure that children are not separated from their parents unless it’s in their best interest and that they are never criminalised purely for their association or membership of a terrorist group.
Find out more about the situation of children who have been enrolled in armed groups, their rights and what Penal Reform International and its partners recommend by reading our position paper, Bringing Children Home: A children’s rights approach to returning from ISIL.