by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
March 4, 2014
His hands are barely large enough to reach the trigger, but the 5-year-old boy pulls hard on his AK-47 as his father stands beside him cheering. Elsewhere, a boy of 4 raises a machete, then strikes, beheading an unarmed prisoner.
These are the scenes that are emerging from Syria now, as opposition groups ranging from the Free Syrian Army to the al-Qaida affiliated Al Nusra Front recruit children, boys barely old enough to stand alone, to fight. But unlike most young boys who frequently play “soldier” and “superhero,” pitting the good guys against the bad guys, their weaponry is real. And there aren’t any good guys.
A Human Rights Watch report sounded the alarm as early as 2012, noting the documented deaths of “at least 17 children who fought with the FSA. Many others have been severely injured, and some permanently disabled.” Few listened.
Yet now, videos recently uploaded to the Internet depicting boys on the streets of Syria confirm this and other reports about the rise in child soldiers in the ongoing civil war. In addition, the United Nations Security Council’s “Report on Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian-Arab Republic,” dated Jan. 27, discloses horrific abuses by President Bashar Assad’s forces, who subject children to unspeakable forms of torture:
Government forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties including children.
Torture often is used against children to force confessions from their relatives, studies have found. “Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips, and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” according to the UN Security Council’s analysis. “Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck, and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten.”
It doesn’t stop there: further evidence also suggests that Syrian armed forces have arrested young children – girls as well as boys – to use as human shields. And none of this includes the sexual violence against girls, perpetrated by male fighters on all sides of the conflict.
It is almost too much to bear, simply reading of these atrocities. Imagine being a child, living them.