The “Islamic state” ‘s attack against the governorate of Sweida has also affected children, following a number of attempts on the part of local armed groups to train them on using weapons, in a step to “protect themselves” in case the area is subjugated to a similar violence in the future.
In the past a few days, activists from Sweida have published videos showing children carrying arms and being trained to using them. In one of these videos, a child appears while being trained on using “Kalashnikov,” helped by his father who is wearing a military outfit.
The video incited the people’s anger in Sweida, and most of the comments that addressed the video, expressed refusal of the recruitment of children or indulging them in the war, which has been viewed as stealing their childhood, instead of distancing them from killing and violence-related practices.
However, fewer comments stressed the importance of teaching children and women and training them manners of self-defense under the current phase, especially with the absence of the concerned entities, pointing out to the Syrian regime, which was totally absent during the attack of the “Islamic State” last July.
The published videos did not only feature children being trained, there were women as well. The news center of the Syrian Official Television has presented a video report about attempts at training girls on using weapons to defend themselves in the governorate.
The Impact of July 25 Attacks
The “Islamic State” ‘s attacks against Sweida, on July 25, killed more than 220 people, including women, children and men. Combating the attacks was limited only to the local armed groups and the people of the villages that “ISIS” entered, without any interference from Assad’s or security forces. This triggered Sweida’s people to take precautions through armament and training men, women and children, the age of whom is between 13 to 17 years old, on fighting.
In the village of Arra, eastern countryside, a fifteen-day training course for women was conducted. The residents spread internal checkpoints between the main and secondary roads and streets. They began to organize guard patrols, with the participation of children between the ages of 13 and 17, without any objections from the parents or the authorities responsible for protecting the children.
The children’s participation in the vigil was not limited to the towns, but also it took place in Sweida city, where a child, not yet 15, died due to an erroneous use of weapons in the neighborhood of al-Qalaa, city of Sweida, while he delivered food to a nearby checkpoint at night.
What Does the “Humanitarian Law” Say?
Children must be protected from three distinct militarized usages of children: They might “take direct part in hostilities (child soldiers); they can be used in support roles such as porters, spies, messengers, lookouts; or they can be used for political advantage [either] as human shields and/or in propaganda.”
The recruitment of children was prohibited by the international humanitarian law in the light of the Geneva Protocol of 1977, for the Protocol states that in internal armed conflicts “children under the age of 15 may not be recruited into armed forces or groups and may not be allowed to be involved in hostilities.”
The European Commissioner defines child soldiers as persons who are under 18 years old and who have participated in armed conflict.
An officer in the field of child protection under the local organizations, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who refused to reveal her name, said that they are being trained by the Agency on matters relating to child protection from various risks, such as dropping out from schools, child labour, violence and early marriage.
When the trainers reach the point where they are supposed to address children military recruitment, they only define the risks without proposing, intervening in, the protection mechanisms to be utilized on such situations, justifying this with the inability to classify the Syrian conflict as either domestic or foreign, which hinders the imposition of the humanitarian international law’s rulings or the human rights conventions, thus leaving the matter open before the international impotence, as the international community cannot intervene since the International humanitarian law cannot be applied on states other than foreign conflicts.
The State’s law is the only dominant authority in case of domestic conflicts, the officer added, telling Enab Baladi that prior to 2013, the Syrian law contained no articles about child recruitment and it was amend after 2013 amidst the State’s inability to apply it on the factions that are out of its control.
“Abu al-Ward” (one of the Sweida’s local factions’ personal) said that he is training his son on holding up arms and fighting to protect his mother and sisters under his constant absence from home, especially following the July 25 attacks.
He added telling Enab Baladi that “we should not present the issue from a sectarian point of view or accuse them of ignorance,” considering that “robbing a child of his right to playing and living his life in peace as a child and robbing part of his rights is better that robbing him of his life and the life of his family.”
According to “Abu al-Ward,” under the current circumstances and after all the efforts made by the governorate to distance itself from the conflict “it has been today thrown into the war alone,” and this robbery of childhood and femininity (alluding to women who are being trained on using weapons) is a necessary evil.
On March 13, 2017, UN Assistant Secretary General Panos Moumtzis expressed his concern over the UN’s reports about child recruitment in Syria and using them in the fighting by all the sides to the conflict.
“Twenty-five percent of recruitment cases involved boys and girls under the age of 15, which is of course a war crime prohibited by international humanitarian law,” he said in a UN report.
“Nine in 10 children were recruited as combat soldiers, and because they grew up in conflict, they did not have the choice or the alternative, or maybe they had no way out, because the killing or detention by the other side was waiting for them,” he added.