ISIL: The Role of Children in Conflict

Children line up at ISIS training camp

Children line up at ISIS training camp, Associated Press 2014

“The regime hasn’t spared its arms, using everything they have against us,” she says. “Then ISIS tries to teach our children that they should consider us infidels and cut off our heads.” (Leigh, 2014).

In recent posts on this blog, the issue of extremism has been addressed in detail. In my post from Nov. 4, I explain the imposition of extremist beliefs on pre-existing education structures in Syria. The aim of this article is to draw on previous information to illustrate the use of indoctrination as a form of education, most recently demonstrated by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The use of indoctrination under the ISIL regime has been institutionalized into training camps  where children, starting at the age of 6, learn to follow the beliefs propagated by the aspired legitimacy of the caliphate.  The threat to the stability of the region is perpetuated by the use of children as the ‘new generation’  of Muslims to enforce the laws of ISIL.

Recruitment for ISIL within its informal boundaries takes many forms. Whether it is voluntary or forced, the use of propaganda facilitates this process. The recitation of Qur’anic verse throughout Raqqah and the patrolled areas has lured many, especially children, to fight for the cause of ISIL and against the infidel. Recruiting events are used to encourage enthusiasm for the state and promote the heroic image these men hope to instill in the children of the communities.

Capture ISIS

Recruitment event, Raqqa, Syria. Vice News, 2014

Outside of the self-proclaimed borders of ISIL, this group has managed to gain support from citizens in more than 80 nations, drawing hundreds of militants to its battlegrounds. These soldiers have gravitated towards ISIL hoping to act upon God’s will and live under the appropriate implementation of Muslim law (Shari’a).

New recruits go through a series of training camps meant to mold them into dedicated soldiers of the caliphate. Those younger than 15 attend the Shari’a camp to learn about the creed and religion through a distorted lens of radicalism. The children are then sent to military training camps, where they gain the physical capabilities to act upon a warped understanding of God’s will. These young minds are taught to use violence to prove their devotion to the Islamic State.

Training camps

Training Camp Assignment. Syria Deeply, 2014

Indoctrination and Development
ISIL has manipulated religion to suit their sociopolitical beliefs. However, they have neglected to acknowledge that their coercive nature replaces who they view as the oppressor, with themselves. It is evident from the coverage of this group that women are either utilized as tools of the movement or are constrained by the abusive nature of the group. Women are not permitted the means of expression and are romanticized by the indoctrination, which promises that virgins will await soldiers in paradise, only to be achieved through martyrdom.

The envisioned society is supposed to reflect that of Qur’anic times, however is achieved through inhumane ways. To this we must consider what role modernization plays in igniting conflict and post-conflict settings . Further, the idea of rehabilitation and reintegration comes to mind when discussing the future of child soldiers. Though difficult to assess in recent situations such as this one, how can interventions be implemented to prevent the indoctrination of children in active conflict? This new generation can be transformed from the enforcers of the caliphate to promoters of peace.

Abdullah, O. (2014). In Raqqa’s Training Camps, ISIS Teaches Children How to Behead. Syria Deeply Blog. Retrieved on November 29 from
Ackerman, S. (2014). Foreign Jihadists Flocking to Iraq and Syria on ‘Unprecedented Scale’-United Nations. The Guardian. Retrieved on November 29 from
Baker, G. (2014). ISIL: Rising Power in Iraq and Syria. Al Jazeera. Retrieved on November 30 from
Wikipedia. Shari’a. Wikipedia. Retrieved on November 30 from
Vice News. (2014). The Islamic State: Part 2. Retrieved on November 30, from

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