ISIS Child Soldiers – Between Reintegration and Prosecution

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On September 25th, 2021, we had the pleasure to start with our WMO Gathering Series in the Arabic language. This, being the very first event in an alternative language to English, was chaired by Daniel Erdmann, moderated and partially translated by Yousra Hasona, and packed with outstanding content being delivered by Dr. Khairallah Subhan from the University of Mosul, and Dr. Izz al-Din Muhammadi representing the Human Thought Foundation.

Besides our speakers from Iraq, our event was blessed by an audience from India, France, Germany, Lebanon, Nigeria, Palestine, and Kenya. The central question or issue to analyze dealt with the challenge of understanding the difficulties that potential ex-child soldiers of ISIS face, before and during the process of building a post-war life.

Having previously discussed the topic of child soldiers in African countries (see article), we found out that many of these African children often were completely left alone, having no family that looked after them, and more often than not they join militant groups, in order to increase their means of livelihood. In the territories occupied by ISIS, this content has a different starting point. If children are not hired by fancy promises communicated by recruiters, their relatives often send them to ISIS in order to maintain the families financially. Interestingly, that the ideology of ISIS is often not of importance to child soldiers, but gains more motivational influence the older potential soldiers become.

To me, it is crucial to share once again what our speakers explained in detail, namely that the majority of people living in ISIS-controlled areas, reject the ideology of ISIS, their targets, and their recruiting systems. This point gains importance when it comes to terms of dealing with children who left ISIS in order to become reintegrated into society. The fact that the majority of people and their communities do not follow ISIS, drives people, who join this group, into the status of civil outlaws, being rejected by their community and prosecuted by the Criminal Law.

Talking about law, crime, and prosecution, we may reflect on the topic of guilt for a moment. The situation per se looks highly complicated as we do have recruiters and families, being active decision-makers, that make their children join ISIS for financial interests. The court itself does not deal with the families but focuses on the children without differentiating if a child was involved in active armed conflict or non-armed activities like cooking. Our speakers shared with us that the ex-child soldiers are handled as adult criminals and that the court does not take into account the adult’s role within this setting, namely being a recruiter or a family that exchanges the child for financial income.

Once a child went through the court procedures, there are mainly two options waiting for the young human being, namely jail or isolation camps. Both options exclude the possibility of a fruitful reintegration into society and non of these paths offer psychological support for the mental healing process of the children. But it is not only the child suffering the injustice of life, it is also the family itself that faces hard times. Once known by the public, that a family gave its child to ISIS, the family itself becomes excluded from the community and may suffer even more financial needs than before.

In order to handle this situation in a constructive way, we need a visionary project that targets social long-term healing. One of such steps was already taken by the Iraqi government by initiating a program that enables ex-child soldiers and their families to be moved to other places, to other communities, and to restart their lives without their critical past. Needless to say, that such programs may be available and practicable for only a few selected families.

What we need, at this point, are broadly accepted and widely practicable concepts of reintegration. Such concepts might have the purpose of dispersing the opposition towards any sort of reintegration. It seems to be highly necessary to make people commonly believe in the fact that a community can overcome such issues, and that the public can grow towards a stronger level of fellowship where such pitfalls are caused by financial needs, tricky recruiters, and fancy promises have no effect on the individual. Both sides need to do their own first steps towards common reconciliation. The child and its family need to understand the wrong that they committed, and the community needs to learn that by readmitting such a family to their middle, they all may become stronger in order to prevent such attacks on local peace in the future.

Please be aware that the speakers and an additional selected staff of experts are working on a book dealing with this topic. Such will be published by Spring 2022 and will offer various potential solutions to the issue of reintegration, reconciliation, and building a common future.

Thank you for your attention.

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