by Carolina de la Pedraja – Children in the United States are protected at all costs. Conversely, the Islamic State views children very differently. The “cubs of the caliphate” is the child army that the Islamic State has built. The Islamic State has no age limitations when it comes to recruiting, taking as young as five years old. In the United States however, the minimum age to join the military is 17 years of age (with parental consent) or 18 years of age (without parental consent). One of the possible reasons that the United States has this strict age requirement is that children (under the age of 17) should be sheltered from all things bad and allowing them to join the military would therefore defeat the purpose of protecting them.
The United States not only has a minimum age requirement to serve in the Military, but it also has physical and educational requirements as well. The physical requirement varies for each of the branches in the Military but it mostly means that the potential service member should be in “good physical condition, of appropriate weight, and able to pass a standard physical screening test.” The educational requirement to join the United States Military is that potential service members must have a high school diploma. These added requirements not only further bar children from enlisting in the army but they also make it clear that the United States Military wants strong, educated, and adult individuals.
The Islamic State not only has recruited child soldiers by ripping them from their families but has also put those child soldiers on the front lines. Aziz Abdullah Hadur, a Peshmerga commander, describes the desperate state the children who flee the Islamic State are in when they reach “relative safety” of the Gweyr frontline, in northern Iraq. He says, “they are so skinny, they barely look human, [and] they tell us they’ve been living in a hell.” Hadur also portrays the unbelievably hard decision he and his fighters must make when child soldiers have been sent to attack the front line. He explains that sometimes the children are wearing explosive vests and are brainwashed, so his fighters must choose between killing a child and being killed by the child.
Some “cubs of the caliphate” have been lucky enough to escape the grasp of the Islamic State. Nasir, a twelve-year-old boy who was training to be a suicide bomber, was reunited with his mother this month. Nasir explains the brainwashing tactics the Islamic State used on the children stating, “[t]hey told us…they would look after us better than our parents.” Another escapee, eleven-year-old Nouri, refused to join the other boys for training, so the Islamic State fighters broke his leg in three places. Nouri says this made him one of the lucky ones, because the injury to his leg made him limp and therefore the Islamic state deemed him “useless” so they let him go home. The children who are able to escape are severely traumatized from the horrible tactics that are used to train them – many of them not able to look others in the eye and suffer from night terrors.
Although it is not clear why the Islamic State uses child soldiers, it takes pride in its brutal war tactics; therefore, the impact on the outside world of seeing child soldiers, could possibly be the Islamic State’s goal when it recruits child soldiers. The difference in the value of children between the United States and the Islamic State is not only immense but it is also devastating, and hopefully will not last.