Young kids with Ak-47s. Really young. As in toddlers. Some of the rebels in Syria’s civil war think it’s cute. Some of the pro-Assad forces are using the pictures of very young children with guns to try and paint the rebels as barbarians. The reality is that more and more pictures of Syrian children with heavy weaponry are popping up on Facebook and it’s becoming clear that many of the kids are now active combatants. Just look at the videos below.
“There’s no doubt that young teenagers are getting sucked into this,” Joshua Landis, Director of OU’s Center for Middle East Studies, tells Vocativ. “And they’re volunteering.
While some child soldiers in Syria call themselves volunteers, often they are manipulated by adults into fighting. A 2012 UNICEF report finds that the number of child soldiers has increased around the world because the men driving armed conflicts realize children are “more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers…and they usually don’t demand pay.”
But they are still children. In this video below, a young rebel has just seen a comrade killed. An older fighter comforts the child as he cries and gathers himself before rejoining others on patrol.
“They aren’t protected from adulthood the way [children] are in the West. When you look at Facebook, you see the eagerness of these young teenagers to get involved and be like their older brothers, their fathers,” says Landis. “I think most of them are playing dress-up, but not all of them. [For those] 15 and older — there will be a place for them. All of these town militias — there will be a place for them.”
Photos on Facebook also show Syrian kids handling very high caliber weaponry.
The Arabic caption on this photo claims that this young man is an active fighter in the Free Syrian Army.
While many photos purport to show young fighters, in some videos children are clearly being used as propaganda for either side in Syria’s Civil War.
In this video, older rebels prompt a young boy with a fully tricked-out AK-47 to say why he loves the Free Syrian Army. His response: “because they defend the people against Bashar al-Assad.”
This video shows an even younger boy sitting on a car wielding a gun, surrounded by heavily armed rebels, leading them in an “Allah Akhbar” (God is Great) chant.
The caption reads, “The youngest mujaheed (fighter).”
The caption reads: “If the men are gone, our children are present.”
This photo, found on the Douma Revolution Tumblr, says “end of games and time to free Syria and fight the Jihad in Allah’s way.”
There are also shots that give a glimpse into what everyday life is like for Syrians who are not actively fighting. Children in the street playing simulated war games in a live war zone are a normal occurrence in a conflict that has incited chaos for over two years.
The boys are holding toy guns, but the signs declare a very real agenda: “The defenders of Old Aleppo Road”
The caption reads: “A martyr’s son promises that he will revenge for his father.”
“One of the games played by our children these days,” in the Al-Hamedeya neighborhood of Homs.
Children in Aljabila neighborhood playing with a shell.
The Syrian war is a magnet for global jihadis, Muslims who believe they are called to war by God. The day after the revolution ends in Syria — what happens to the children? Will they move on to one of the next battlegrounds, in Afghanistan or North Africa, becoming the next generation of warmongerers? What happens after a child grows up with jihad as his defining experience? Is it possible to shed the psychological distress and violent habits?
A quarter million child soldiers are fighting around the world right now, according to Human Rights Watch. Child soldiers in Uganda, Mozambique and elsewhere have been able to shake off the brutality of their past and lead successful lives. Whatever the repercussions, the gun-toting teens won’t be going away anytime soon: as the fictionalized dictator Andre Batiste explains in the film “Lord of War,” “the theory is that a bullet coming from a fourteen year old is just as effective as one from a forty year old.