Islamic State: Children of the 'Caliphate'

ISIS Child Jihadi Camps Recruitment Cubs Pearls
ISIS has used children extensively in its propaganda videos, while training them in radical Islamist camps. Australia is to allow the six-year-old son of an ISIS fighter to return to the country, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Monday despite his use in a propaganda photograph for ISIS. ISIS Media

The two boys running through the school yard appear to be no older than ten. They are pictured holding hands, with wide, carefree smiles. They laugh.

It's hard not to feel a sense of happiness when looking at this picture, smiling with the boys and thinking about children here in England, playing in parks and interacting with their friends. However, unlike children here, these boys have a predetermined future, as they are being groomed to become soldiers fighting on the frontlines of the Islamic State.

Some of these children have volunteered for this role, whereas others have been seized from their families in order to one day bolster the frontlines. Whatever the reason, children are not allowed to be homeschooled, as they must follow the Islamic State's strict curriculum, which revolves around religious education and the militarization of children.

From last August until February 9, my colleagues and I have documented 254 instances when a child has appeared in either a video or a picture released by the Islamic State's media wing. Thirty-one percent of these pictures and videos show children involved in state-building events, such as in schools, and participating in outreach events. This demonstrates how the group is attempting to portray itself as a legitimate state, showing the programs put in place for entire families looking to make hijra (migration) to the so-called caliphate.

Children of both sexes are required to attend school from the age of five. Girls are given a domestic education, learning how to take care of husbands, raise children and maintain households while adhering to strict ISIS ideology. To provide for their family's needs, girls are expected to be able to sew and knit, as this is their contribution to the state, along with producing sons to send out to battle. These girls will never receive a proper education, and are expected to marry at the age of nine. There are currently 31,000 pregnant girls and women within the Islamic State.

Boys receive a very different education, and are expected to learn many more skills to properly support the state. Between the ages of five and 10, boys are enrolled in religious education, learning the Islamic State's distorted version of Islam , which is taught in order to strengthen their ideology and pass it on to the next generation.

Math is also featured in their curriculum. Five-year-old boys are taught to count with math books that use pictures of guns, tanks and knives. Although we may laugh at the absurdity of this, it takes a darker turn when we imagine British children coming home with one of these textbooks.

Subjects such as drawing, music, history and social studies are not included in the Islamic State's curriculum, as they have been replaced with religious topics such as Koran memorisation, tawheed (monotheism), salat (prayer) and aqeedah (creed), among others.

Even more shocking, the Islamic State's children are instructed in geography using a textbook that does not name continents, and in history using a textbook that only teaches Islamic history.

Between the ages of 10 to 15, the boys are trained to use weapons. Not long ago, a video emerged showing a young boy being made to stand up and name the gun that his teacher was pointing at, a Kalashnikov, and give a bit of the history of the gun. His classmates waited their turns to name different weapons.

Once boys "graduate" at the age of 15, they are forced to commit a repulsive inaugural act, which has the aim of desensitizing them to violence, while also demonstrating their loyalty to the group and acting as a bonding activity: beheading a prisoner. It is an act that cannot be withdrawn, and it brings the group closer together as they complete the task.

All aspects considered, children emerging from the Islamic State will not know anything about the world around them. They will not have learned the proper social skills needed in order to be a contributing member in a Western society and women will not have the education required for any sort of job.

What they will know, the boys at least, is how to operate small arms and light weaponry. They will know how to fight. They will know violence, bloodshed and loss.

This is why before children start to emerge from the Islamic State, we need to educate ourselves. We need to prepare our communities in order to reintegrate them into society. We need to learn about what we can do to facilitate the children's re-education.

At Quilliam, we feel that it is our collective responsibility to acknowledge the situation that these children are emerging from without solely focusing on their past acts. Instead, as a part of their reintegration, we need to welcome these children into our communities with open arms, and attempt to give them back the childhood that they were deprived of.

Nikita Malik is a senior researcher at the U.K.-based counter-extremism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation. Alexandra Bissoondath is interning at Quilliam.