Iranian officials have organized the “Sixth National Children’s Memorial,” an event to train children for possible war against the United States and Israel.
Around 1,200 children, as young as six years old, in military apparel run around the fields with weapons. They participate in obstacle courses and gather around bonfires.
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This camp aims for the “conquering of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” One picture shows a boy before burning the Israeli flag.
“According to the teachings of the Quran and Islamic tradition, whatever is planted within a child’s heart will be manifested,” explained one officer.
Iran has a history of using child soldiers in their wars. They used many child soldiers during the long Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The Iraqi government established a prisoner camp specifically for the Iranian child soldiers they captured. The Christian Science Monitor wrote about the camp as early as 1987.
The Iranian government used children as young as 14 years old to attack protesters in Tehran in 2011. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran claimed authorities armed these children with “batons, clubs and air guns and ordered to attack demonstrators who have tried to gather in Tehran.”
“It’s really a violation of international law. It’s no different than child soldiers, which is the custom in many zones of conflict,” stressed Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign’s executive director. “They are being recruited into being part of the conflict and armed for it.”
One woman said a 12-year-old boy attacked her, speaking with a rural accent. The organization believes officials brought in the kids “from villages far from Tehran.”
“They are very keen to display violence. Teenage boys are notorious for that,” continued Ghaemi. “They are being used to ensure there is a good ratio of government forces to protesters and because the average policeman in Tehran could have some kind of family connection to the people they have to beat up. It’s a classic tactic to bring people from outside, because they have no sense of sympathy for city dwellers.”
Many militias in Iraq train or recruit children. Mytham al-Nuri was under 18 when he joined the PMF’s Badr Brigades – his father Karim is the brigades’ spokesman — and fought on the front lines in 2014. He finished high school this September. The Ali Akbar brigades’ Abbas Fighting Team unit provides military training to 15 to 18 year olds in Basra, according a member of the group who spoke to Human Rights Watch in July. The Peace Brigades, another militia group from Basra affiliated with the Sadrist Trend, trains 15 to 18 year olds, according to one of the trainers, but had not sent them to the front line “yet.”
In August, The Daily Beast reported that some Yazidi children had chosen to pick up arms against the Islamic State, with few adults getting in their way. ISIS targeted the minority group last year, claiming Yazidis are “devil-worshippers.” Yazidi groups have continuously requested international assistance. Few have responded, though an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has offered to train Yazidis to fight. The PKK is a Marxist group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU, and NATO.
“I came because I got the chance to protect my people, because this isn’t the first time there’s been a Yazidi genocide,” explained 16-year-old girl Ari.
The Islamic State boasts about their efforts with videos and pictures on social media. Militants often show off the children, “Caliphate Cubs,” in specialized training camps for kids. In October, authorities uncovered one camp in Istanbul, Turkey. Hürriyet Daily News reported that “24 of around 50 suspects of Tajik and Uzbek origin” are children that trained in those basement camps. The officers raided 18 homes in the “Pendik and Başakşehir’s Kayaşehir neighborhood.” The houses contained “battlefield maps as well as documents describing the group’s contacts in both countries.” Other evidence led authorities to believe the group intended to meet ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
A child training camp video from August 2014 included Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen leader within ISIS. The kids, who appear between 5 and 7 years old, wear camouflage vests and hold guns. In a classroom, they show off chants, songs, and military formations they learned. At one point, the boys fall to their knees, raise the guns to their eyes, and show al-Shishani they can balance the gun and aim properly.