The report said the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
which has made rapid territorial gains across the border in Iraq,
had given children weapons training in Syria and told them to carry
out suicide bombings.
Citing personal accounts, the rights group also found evidence of
children being mobilized by the more moderate Western-backed Free
Syrian Army, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, the Islamic Front
coalition and security forces in Kurdish-controlled areas.
"The horrors of Syria's armed conflict are only made worse by
throwing children into the front lines," said Priyanka Motaparthy,
the author of the report which drew on the accounts of 25 children.
It said 14-year-old youths had been used in support roles for the
Reuters could not independently confirm the accounts. The
British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad
monitoring group, said on Sunday that relatives of kidnapped
students in Syria fear that ISIL will use the children to carry out
car bombs or suicide attacks.
Syria's conflict started with peaceful demonstrations for political
change in 2011 but has descended into a civil war, pitting forces
loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against a myriad of opposition
Infighting among opposition combatants has complicated the conflict,
which has stirred sectarian tensions across the Middle East and
spilled over into neighboring countries.
HRW said the number of children fighting in Syria was not known. The
Violations Documenting Center, a Syrian monitoring group, had
documented 194 deaths of "non-civilian" male children in the country
since September 2011, the report said.
"ALLAH CHOSE YOU"
The children said they had fought in battles, acted as snipers,
manned checkpoints, treated the wounded on battlefields, and brought
supplies to front lines, the report said.
A 16-year-old boy who gave his name as Majed said the Nusra Front
recruited him and other boys in the southern city of Deraa near the
The group provided free schooling at a local mosque that included
military training and commanders had asked children as well as
adults to carry out suicide attacks, he said.
[to top of second column]
"Sometimes the commanders would say, "Allah chose you," and
sometimes the fighters volunteered," Majed said, according to the
Many children followed their relatives or friends into the
armed groups, while others lived in battle zones without schooling
or other options, HRW said. Others had taken part in protests or
were angry with the government.
All of the 25 interviewed were boys, but the Kurdish Democratic
Union Party (PYD) police force and its armed wing had enlisted girls
to guard checkpoints and conduct armed patrols in Kurdish-controlled
areas, the report said.
Human Rights Watch said some armed groups had taken steps to end the
use of children in the conflict. The Western-backed Syrian National
Coalition said it was examining the allegations.
"We take such allegations extremely seriously and are committed to
ensuring that anyone responsible for the voluntary or involuntary
recruitment of children is held to account," it told Human Rights
Watch in a letter.
The Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel factions, told HRW
it had investigated the accounts and found no evidence that its
fighters included children.
"We never arm a young man, or give him the opportunity to join the
Front, including the Ahrar Al-Sham Islamic movement, except after a
thorough check of his documents, to ascertain he's over 18," it told
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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