Different jihadi groups fighting the Syrian government have been increasingly recruiting children soldiers as the conflict sweeps the war-torn country for the sixth year.
Since the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, Jabhet al-Nusra, established itself in Syria in January 2012, child recruitment has become more widely practiced, and even got wider and more organized with the emergence of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.
The two ultraconservative groups created training camps for children where they are brainwashed and instilled with Takfiri ideology to become jihadi fighters and suicide bombers.
The process significantly increased with the Nusra-led Jaish al-Fateh taking over the northwestern province of Idlib in May 2015.
Analysts identify the notorious Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhesini as the godfather of recruiting children soldiers in rebel-held territories, especially Idlib.
In 2013, al-Muhesini launched his wide-scale recruiting campaign in Idlib (which later expanded to the northern countryside of Aleppo), and set up a boot camp dubbed (Callers of Jihad).
Propaganda leaflets and stickers that promote ‘fight against the infidels’ have proved crucial for the campaign.
Analysts estimate the number of children who joined al-Muhesini of around 1000 children – some even came from refugee camps along the Turkish borders – each paid $100 monthly salary.
While the media has constantly focused on child recruitment by factions internationally designated as ‘terrorist groups’, it – the media – has totally ignored those recruited by ‘moderate rebels’ across the country.
In the central Syrian city of Homs, a child fighting armed rebels was filmed beheading a captured Syrian officer with a machete in December 2012.
More recent footage from the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam shows children as young as 13 years old fighting government troops in Eastern Ghouta region.