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Assad’s Militias Turn to Schoolchildren to Fill Manpower Void

Opposition outlet claims loyalist paramilitary groups are routinely exploiting Syrians' needs for a stable income by recruiting children into their ranks for up to $200 a month, with many of them being sent to battlefronts without proper training
Assad’s Militias Turn to Schoolchildren to Fill Manpower Void

Conscripted from schools or places of work to fight in the ranks of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, children walk through areas of Damascus and its countryside in full military gear, only to end up dead or stationed on battlefronts to await their fate.

Amid a dire economic climate and widespread financial stress for many families, celebrations for the conscription of schoolchildren under 18 years old have become a normal affair, as the regime exploits people’s need for an income against a backdrop of skyrocketing prices.

Damascus and its countryside have seen the conscription of children from the ages of 13 to 17 in various areas. One such area is Adra al-Amaliyeh, close to the city of Douma in the Damascus countryside, where a number of secondary and preparatory schools have witnessed the presence of recruiters from the Baath Brigades militia, while a party was held for about 40 children signing up to fight with the loyalist Fifth Corps, according to what sources told Alsouria Net, requesting anonymity out of fear for their safety.

The sources said there were no regulations for recruiting children, whereby the Baath Brigades accepted any child to fight in its ranks in exchange for $200 a month. Other incentives include the recording of their attendance in school and securing opportunities to succeed in academic courses.

In the Rukneddine area in the capital Damascus, children appear in their military gear alongside the National Defense Forces group and a number of other Shiite militias. Many of the children enter into fighting without having taken training courses to prepare them for the battle, increasing the likelihood of them being fatally wounded during clashes.

Among the children who told their stories to Alsouria Net was the child Shihab, 16, who lives in the Kashkool area near Jaramana and fights alongside the NDF militia for 35,000 Syrian pounds ($160) a month. He told his relatives that he had left school because his family was unable to secure a living and that he benefits from the salary he receives and from looting, which regime forces carry out in the areas they enter.

Although the most recent constitution, authored by the Assad regime in 2012, includes compulsory schooling for all children, it seems ensuring the education of those who drop out of school is not considered a priority in the areas under regime control.

The NDF militia, the popular committees and the Baath Brigades are the most prominent parties into which children are conscripted for the benefit of the Assad regime — something the regime has repeatedly denied. From time to time loyalist pages on social media will publish images of bases for conscripting children, while the NDF militia in the Hama countryside has previously published images of children who were receiving training, some of them wearing military uniform, overseen by fighters from the regime forces.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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