One linked issue that has received less time in the spotlight is the intersection between the Iranian regime and the involvement of children in armed conflicts.
There are six grave violations that are identified by the UN Security Council. One of them is recruiting, abusing or exploiting children during conflicts.
One prominent example of Iran’s involvement in such cases is the Syrian conflict. In the last six years of the Syrian conflict, the Islamic Republic has shown that it will resort to any tool in order to maintain Bashar Assad and his forces in power. One of these tools has been the increasing recruitment of foreign children, both in Iran and elsewhere, in order to fight in the front lines of the Syrian battlefields to enable the Syrian and Iranian forces and their militias to suffer fewer casualties and achieve victories.
Two particular Iranian organizations are behind the recruitment; the IRGC and its elite Quds Force, whose mission is to operate beyond Iran’s borders in order to export the revolutionary principles of the Islamic Republic and safeguard Iran’s geopolitical interest.
Leaders of the IRGC and Quds Force implement different tactics to recruit children. The Iranian regime normally preys on children and families who are vulnerable for various reasons.
Some children come from immigrant families. The families are lured to give up their children to fight in conflicts in exchange for a better position in Iran. Other children are refugees who are seduced by promises of legal residency status and permits. It is extremely difficult to obtain a legal residency permit in the Islamic Republic even for those refugees who have been living there for decades.
In addition, many of these children come from lower socio-economic class. The Iranian regime exploits their poverty and recruits them in exchange for financial incentives. Reports from human rights organizations indicate that currently not only does the Iranian regime recruit children, but Iran-backed militia are also engaged in such activities.
The UN’s Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflicts states that ending such violations is “the focus of its Special Representative’s work and advocacy.” Nevertheless it does not seem that any concrete and successful actions have been taken to prevent the Iranian regime from abusing children in conflicts.
Ironically, Iran is a signatory to the Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which focuses on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000 and went into force in 2002. The Protocol states that 18 is the minimum age for participation in wars and armed conflict. It clearly states that the protocol is a commitment that states will not recruit children under the age of 18 to send them to the battlefield. States will not conscript soldiers below the age of 18. States should take all possible measures to prevent such recruitment — including legislation to prohibit and criminalize the recruitment of children under 18 and involve them in hostilities. States will demobilize anyone under 18 conscripted or used in hostilities and will provide physical, and psychological recovery services and help their social reintegration. Armed groups distinct from the armed forces of a country should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities anyone under 18.
The IRGC, the Quds Force and Iran-backed militias are breaking international law by recruiting children to fight in Syria.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Human Rights Watch’s latest report raised alarm about the Iranian regime’s role in recruiting Afghan children. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Iran should immediately end the recruitment of child soldiers and bring back any Afghan children it has sent to fight in Syria. Rather than preying on vulnerable immigrant and refugee children, the Iranian authorities should protect all children and hold those responsible for recruiting Afghan children to account.”
More importantly, since reports by human rights organizations indicate that Iran recruits children as young as 15, Iran is committing another violation of international law which is considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court and is completely prohibited.
The increasing recruitment of children by the Iranian regime to fight in conflicts not only has serious psychological and physical implications for the children and their families, but also inflicts serious damage on the security and stability of the region. It is incumbent on the international community and human rights organizations to follow up on their promises, take immediate action and hold the Iranian leaders responsible for violating international law, abusing human rights and children, and committing a war crime.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh