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‘Worse’ than Child Soldiers? A Critical Analysis of Foreign Children in the Ranks of ISIL

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Even though many problems connected to child soldiering have been eventually explored and unpacked, it is undeniable that new issues keep surfacing in each context affected by this phenomenon. The current armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq appear to be shocking for several reasons, including the unprecedented presence of foreigners and the widespread recruitment and use of children by terrorist groups, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This article argues that whereas child soldiers affiliated with armed forces or groups are ‘traditionally’ seen as victims rather than perpetrators, foreign children in the ranks of terrorist groups like ISIL are first and foremost regarded as a threat to national and international security. This article will provide a critical overview of the most relevant aspects encompassing the existing legal framework, ISIL’s recruitment and use of foreign child soldiers, and the challenges connected to the design and implementation of meaningful reintegration processes.

Affiliations: 1: Senior Research Fellow in Public International Law; Coordinator of the Masters in Human Rights and Conflict Management, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy,


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