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Children of the Idlib Countryside: From Schools to Recruitment Camps

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Umm Ammar spent a terrifying night of worry following the disappearance of her 14-year-old son Ammar from their home. After a long search that lasted for more than two days, she was informed that her son had joined al-Nusra Front, currently known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and was being trained at one of its camps.

 

Children in the Idlib countryside are being increasingly recruited by militant factions to fight in Syria. One reason for this is the continued systematic targeting of schools in rural Idlib by warplanes. Another is the absence of families’ main breadwinners, which has pushed a large number of children to join recruitment camps, some with the consent of their parents, but often without. The ramifications of this critical issue are that child soldiers will be more likely to die or be killed on the Syrian front lines.

 

Umm Ammar, a 32-year old woman from rural Idlib said, “It’s true that our financial situation is extremely difficult, and we have lost our sole breadwinner after my husband was arrested by the Assad regime, but I would never have allowed my child to join any military faction." She added, "I strongly reject such a decision because my child is still a little boy and I'm not ready to lose him. I have already lost hope that my husband will ever be released from the Assad’s prison.”

 

Ammar’s mother had tried to persuade her son to abandon his jihadist ambitions but all her efforts were in vain because Ammar, as she put it, “…was convinced about what he was doing.”

 

Through tears, Ammar himself tried to explain to Suwar Magazine his point of view about what he was doing, "Aren’t our schools destroyed? How can we have a normal life amid all this injustice and poverty?" According to SMART news agency, 800 out of a total 1,404 schools in Idlib and its countryside are closed. This number includes primary, preparatory and secondary schools. It also includes 400 schools which have been completely destroyed by Russian airstrikes, as well as 400 schools that can be rehabilitated.

 

School dropout rates are estimated at 50 percent according to the Education Minister in the Interim Syrian Government, Imad Barq.

 

People in rural Idlib often try to send their children to educational seminars that are run by jihadist groups and have become widespread in the countryside. They do so to try to compensate for their children’s loss of educational opportunities. These seminars are held on a daily basis and children are taught Islamic jurisprudence and Recitation of the Quran as well as the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad. However, as children are taught some of these Islamic studies, they are being persuaded by al-Nusra Front to join its camps to prepare for jihad and achieve victory over their enemies.

 

This is exactly what Abu Ayham, a middle-aged man from the town of Kafranbel told Suwar Magazine, “Our children enjoy these seminars, especially as these jihadist groups encourage children to attend by distributing gifts and conducting entertaining competitions, in addition to providing food. In this way they guarantee the frequent attendance of children to these seminars. After that, jihadist groups start planting the idea of jihad and recruitment in the minds of these little children.” Abu Ayham pointed out that this is what happened with his son Ayham, who joined the al-Nusra Front camps two years ago when he was only 13 years-old.

 

 

Abu Ayham admits that he could not retrieve his child from their camps. These jihadist groups and organizations convince children that parental consent is not necessary, because jihad falls under the supremacy of Islamic rule. Abu Ayham was forced to accept his child’s decision and insistence on staying in the training camp.

 

After six years, the war has caused many people to lose their work and livelihoods. This has contributed to the rise in unemployment rates in the city of Idlib. In addition, the city is witnessing an unprecedented rise in prices, contributing to the impoverishment of a large number of families.

 

"My salary and the aid I get can lift some of the burden from my poor family," said Salem, a 15 years old child soldier.

 

In an attempt to entice the large number of children in Aleppo and Idlib governorates, “The Army of Conquest” Jaish al-Fatah, along with Mirkaz Du'at al-Jihad, (one of the projects established by the Saudi Arabian Islamic cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini in Syria to support the Jihadist movement), and the Association of Muslim Scholars in Damascus, launched the “Mobilize” campaign in April 2016. The campaign recruited over 500 children to be trained and to fight under the banner of jihad, after printing more than one million publications and using several accounts on social media to promote this. In response, a group of activists launched the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign in an attempt to prevent and end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

 

Media activist and coordinator of the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, Asem Zeidan, told Suwar Magazine that the campaign team members regularly meet with locals to raise awareness regarding the alarming situation of child recruitment, and that so far, the meetings have been fruitful. The campaign’s graffiti and posters cover the street’s walls in the cities of Aleppo and Sarmada in Idlib, especially near schools. These posters contain statements like “Children should go to schools, not to recruitment camps”, “The safety of children is in their education”, “Save our children from al-Qaeda camps.”

 

Expressing her support for the campaign, Engineer Samar al-Othman said, "Schools are the natural place for children. Children’s best weapon is education, not guns. The campaign addresses the heart of the problem and I hope that it will succeed in providing all opportunities to keep children away from the battlefields.”

 

Ahmed al-Sheikh, is 36 years-old and a member of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, a civil society organization working to counter radicalism in Kafranbel in Idlib. He told Suwar Magazine, “Recruiting children is a grave mistake that must be addressed. There must be multiple mechanisms that raise awareness among those who send their children to fight without understanding the seriousness of the issue.” Ahmed stressed that any campaign will need to continue its work over a long period of time to deliver any solutions to this growing and complex problem.

 

While some families are forced to accept the recruitment of their children without their consent, others send their children to fight for the money and assistance the fighters get. Among them is Radia, a 30-year-old woman who was forced to send her 15-year-old son to join one of the military factions. Justifying her decision, she explained, “After my husband disappeared more than three years ago, there was no breadwinner left for me and my four children, and because I am illiterate and unfit to work, I worked as a domestic servant, but the pay I was getting was not enough to meet the basic needs of my family. I have debts that have weighed heavily on me.” She added, “It is true that I persuaded my son Muhammad to join the factions, but the reason is our abject poverty and suffering, which no one knows about.” 

 

 

 

Radia lives with anxiety and fear whenever her son Muhammad leaves the house to go to the battle fronts and she continues to pray for her son to return home safely.

 

Radia’s neighbor, a 32-year-old woman, criticized her by saying, “Radia has plunged her son into death’s clutches. Didn’t she notice how many young boys are falling every day? These children are victims. They are being put on the frontline and they face the most difficult and cruelest fate. Most of them are killed, and those who survive are returned to their families with permanent disabilities.”

 

Manaf al-Bayoush, a 25-year-old man, warns of the consequences of children moving away from school by either sending them to work or to recruitment camps. Al-Bayoush said, “Schools have been destroyed in every sense of the word. They are either completely or partially destroyed, while other schools have been converted to IDP shelters. Education is virtually absent in our areas. Families fear for the lives of their children due to shelling and at the same time they send them to the front lines. What is this great contradiction we live in today?”

 

Bayoush further emphasized that children dropping out of schools is a very serious problem that everyone needs to address. Otherwise, the future generation will be benighted, illiterate and incapable of building a homeland.

 

At the same time, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has announced that violations against children in Syria reached its highest level in 2016. In a report, UNICEF said that the killing, maiming and recruitment of children rose sharply last year because of escalating violence across the country. The report also showed that more than 850 children have been recruited to participate in military operations. This is more than double the child recruitment numbers in 2015.

 

In light of this vicious circle of causes and consequences, the problem of child recruitment continues to increase. This requires a combination of efforts to find solutions by establishing recreational places, educational courses as well as centers to rehabilitate children, who have been the first victims of this war.

 

Umm Ammar spent a terrifying night of worry following the disappearance of her 14-year-old son Ammar from their home. After a long search that lasted for more than two days, she was informed that her son had joined al-Nusra Front, currently known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and was being trained at one of its camps.

 

Children in the Idlib countryside are being increasingly recruited by militant factions to fight in Syria. One reason for this is the continued systematic targeting of schools in rural Idlib by warplanes. Another is the absence of families’ main breadwinners, which has pushed a large number of children to join recruitment camps, some with the consent of their parents, but often without. The ramifications of this critical issue are that child soldiers will be more likely to die or be killed on the Syrian front lines.

 

Umm Ammar, a 32-year old woman from rural Idlib said, “It’s true that our financial situation is extremely difficult, and we have lost our sole breadwinner after my husband was arrested by the Assad regime, but I would never have allowed my child to join any military faction." She added, "I strongly reject such a decision because my child is still a little boy and I'm not ready to lose him. I have already lost hope that my husband will ever be released from the Assad’s prison.”

 

Ammar’s mother had tried to persuade her son to abandon his jihadist ambitions but all her efforts were in vain because Ammar, as she put it, “…was convinced about what he was doing.”

 

Through tears, Ammar himself tried to explain to Suwar Magazine his point of view about what he was doing, "Aren’t our schools destroyed? How can we have a normal life amid all this injustice and poverty?" According to SMART news agency, 800 out of a total 1,404 schools in Idlib and its countryside are closed. This number includes primary, preparatory and secondary schools. It also includes 400 schools which have been completely destroyed by Russian airstrikes, as well as 400 schools that can be rehabilitated.

 

School dropout rates are estimated at 50 percent according to the Education Minister in the Interim Syrian Government, Imad Barq.

 

People in rural Idlib often try to send their children to educational seminars that are run by jihadist groups and have become widespread in the countryside. They do so to try to compensate for their children’s loss of educational opportunities. These seminars are held on a daily basis and children are taught Islamic jurisprudence and Recitation of the Quran as well as the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad. However, as children are taught some of these Islamic studies, they are being persuaded by al-Nusra Front to join its camps to prepare for jihad and achieve victory over their enemies.

 

This is exactly what Abu Ayham, a middle-aged man from the town of Kafranbel told Suwar Magazine, “Our children enjoy these seminars, especially as these jihadist groups encourage children to attend by distributing gifts and conducting entertaining competitions, in addition to providing food. In this way they guarantee the frequent attendance of children to these seminars. After that, jihadist groups start planting the idea of jihad and recruitment in the minds of these little children.” Abu Ayham pointed out that this is what happened with his son Ayham, who joined the al-Nusra Front camps two years ago when he was only 13 years-old.

 

Abu Ayham admits that he could not retrieve his child from their camps. These jihadist groups and organizations convince children that parental consent is not necessary, because jihad falls under the supremacy of Islamic rule. Abu Ayham was forced to accept his child’s decision and insistence on staying in the training camp.

 

After six years, the war has caused many people to lose their work and livelihoods. This has contributed to the rise in unemployment rates in the city of Idlib. In addition, the city is witnessing an unprecedented rise in prices, contributing to the impoverishment of a large number of families.

 

"My salary and the aid I get can lift some of the burden from my poor family," said Salem, a 15 years old child soldier.

 

In an attempt to entice the large number of children in Aleppo and Idlib governorates, “The Army of Conquest” Jaish al-Fatah, along with Mirkaz Du'at al-Jihad, (one of the projects established by the Saudi Arabian Islamic cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini in Syria to support the Jihadist movement), and the Association of Muslim Scholars in Damascus, launched the “Mobilize” campaign in April 2016. The campaign recruited over 500 children to be trained and to fight under the banner of jihad, after printing more than one million publications and using several accounts on social media to promote this. In response, a group of activists launched the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign in an attempt to prevent and end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

 

Media activist and coordinator of the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, Asem Zeidan, told Suwar Magazine that the campaign team members regularly meet with locals to raise awareness regarding the alarming situation of child recruitment, and that so far, the meetings have been fruitful. The campaign’s graffiti and posters cover the street’s walls in the cities of Aleppo and Sarmada in Idlib, especially near schools. These posters contain statements like “Children should go to schools, not to recruitment camps”, “The safety of children is in their education”, “Save our children from al-Qaeda camps.”

 

Expressing her support for the campaign, Engineer Samar al-Othman said, "Schools are the natural place for children. Children’s best weapon is education, not guns. The campaign addresses the heart of the problem and I hope that it will succeed in providing all opportunities to keep children away from the battlefields.”

 

Ahmed al-Sheikh, is 36 years-old and a member of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, a civil society organization working to counter radicalism in Kafranbel in Idlib. He told Suwar Magazine, “Recruiting children is a grave mistake that must be addressed. There must be multiple mechanisms that raise awareness among those who send their children to fight without understanding the seriousness of the issue.” Ahmed stressed that any campaign will need to continue its work over a long period of time to deliver any solutions to this growing and complex problem.

 

While some families are forced to accept the recruitment of their children without their consent, others send their children to fight for the money and assistance the fighters get. Among them is Radia, a 30-year-old woman who was forced to send her 15-year-old son to join one of the military factions. Justifying her decision, she explained, “After my husband disappeared more than three years ago, there was no breadwinner left for me and my four children, and because I am illiterate and unfit to work, I worked as a domestic servant, but the pay I was getting was not enough to meet the basic needs of my family. I have debts that have weighed heavily on me.” She added, “It is true that I persuaded my son Muhammad to join the factions, but the reason is our abject poverty and suffering, which no one knows about.” 

 

Radia lives with anxiety and fear whenever her son Muhammad leaves the house to go to the battle fronts and she continues to pray for her son to return home safely.

 

Radia’s neighbor, a 32-year-old woman, criticized her by saying, “Radia has plunged her son into death’s clutches. Didn’t she notice how many young boys are falling every day? These children are victims. They are being put on the frontline and they face the most difficult and cruelest fate. Most of them are killed, and those who survive are returned to their families with permanent disabilities.”

 

Manaf al-Bayoush, a 25-year-old man, warns of the consequences of children moving away from school by either sending them to work or to recruitment camps. Al-Bayoush said, “Schools have been destroyed in every sense of the word. They are either completely or partially destroyed, while other schools have been converted to IDP shelters. Education is virtually absent in our areas. Families fear for the lives of their children due to shelling and at the same time they send them to the front lines. What is this great contradiction we live in today?”

 

Bayoush further emphasized that children dropping out of schools is a very serious problem that everyone needs to address. Otherwise, the future generation will be benighted, illiterate and incapable of building a homeland.

 

At the same time, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has announced that violations against children in Syria reached its highest level in 2016. In a report, UNICEF said that the killing, maiming and recruitment of children rose sharply last year because of escalating violence across the country. The report also showed that more than 850 children have been recruited to participate in military operations. This is more than double the child recruitment numbers in 2015.

 

In light of this vicious circle of causes and consequences, the problem of child recruitment continues to increase. This requires a combination of efforts to find solutions by establishing recreational places, educational courses as well as centers to rehabilitate children, who have been the first victims of this war.



2017-11-16

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