Iran 'recruiting Afghan' children to fight in Syria, says Human Rights Watch

Iran 'recruiting Afghan' children to fight in Syria, says Human Rights Watch
Afghan boys as young as 14 are being recruited by Iran to fight in Syria, an investigation by Human Rights Watch has shown.
2 min read
02 October, 2017
Iranian militias have played a lead role in the Syrian war [AFP]

Iran's Revolutionary Guards appear to be sending Afghan children to the frontlines of Syria, in a bid by Tehran to prop up Bashar al-Assad's regime, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

Photographs of tombstones of militia fighters killed in Syria have been reviewed by the human rights group. Among them were the graves of at least eight children, one aged under-14.

Writing on the gravestones - such as "defender of the [Damascus] shrines" - either stated or suggested they died in Syria.

The Fatimiyoun brigades are made up of mostly Shia-Afghani recruits and led by the Revolutionary Guards.

They have been recruited from the vulnerable 2.5 million Afghanis living in Iran and sent to fight in Syria. The militias have played a key role in the fight against Syrian rebels, after the regime's military was decimated by six years of fighting and mass desertions.

Parents of two of the dead children whose gravestones were reviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed their sons were aged under 18. They said their children faked their ages to join the militia.

One of the fathers, Issa Rahimi, told Iranian media the date of birth on his son's gravestone was incorrect.

"On his tomb, his birthday is printed as 1995, but his real birthday is 1999. He had lied about his age so they would allow him to join the forces easier. They hadn't asked him for a birth certificate, and that's how he got away with it."

Human Rights Watch said this indicated that many more children could be fighting in the ranks of Iranian militias in Syria.

"Iran should immediately end the recruitment of child soldiers and bring back any Afghan children it has sent to fight in Syria," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"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."

Many of the 2.5 million Afghans refugees living in Iran reside their illegally, fleeing the violence and poverty of their home country.

Their legal status and low incomes make them ideal targets for militia recruiters who promise them money and their families a path to citizenship or residency if they fight in Syria.

Media reports suggest that there are around 14,000 fighters in the Fatimiyoun brigades in Syria.

Children under the age of 15 are forbidden from fighting in war zones, according to international law.