- Human Rights Watch has claimed that Afghan children are being recruited from Iran to fight in Syria
- At least 14 cases of under-18s dying in battle have been identified
- Afghan immigrants and refugees are particularly vulnerable in Iran
- HRW has called on the U.N. to investigate the recruitment of child soldiers in Iran
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Iran is recruiting Afghan children to fight and die in Syria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alleged.
Afghan immigrants as young as 14 have been enlisted to fight in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a HRW report released today suggested.
The allegations are based on evidence gathered from gravestones in Iran, as well as Iranian media accounts.
The rights monitor indicates that at least eight Afghan child soldiers who died fighting in Syria have been identified from tombstones, including one aged just 14.
A further six cases of Afghan child soldiers killed in combat were established from local media reports.
Table: Confirmed Cases of Child Soldiers (based on the writing on the epitaphs of the tombstones) (HRW)
The troops were part of the Fatemiyoun division, an Afghan Shia militia funded and trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The division is made up of a reported 14,000 fighters, drawn in part from the 2.5 million Afghans in Iran.
Some are believed to have lied about their age to join the organization.
Recruiting children under the age of 15 to take part driectly in hostilities is a war crime, according to international law. A 2002 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed but not ratified by Iran, made 18 the minimum age for direct participation.
- HRW: Syrian opposition uses child soldiers
- Hundreds of children recruited by Daesh within four months: UN
Given the vulnerable status of Afghan refugees in Iran, many of whom do not have residency papers, some are thought to join up with the hope of securing legal status for their families.
A young Afghan, "Ali", told HRW in August that he had joined the Fatemiyoun division after being approached by a recruiter while attempting to renew his residency permit. He was promised a permit if he signed up.
“They never asked me to show any documentation, but they wanted to make sure we were Afghan nationals,” said the 29-year-old, who suggested he had met 16 and 17-year-olds being trained to fight in Syria.
“We had to be above the age 18 to be recruited, but they only asked for our age, not any documentation.”
HRW has called on the U.N. to investigate the recruitment of children in Iran.
“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 HRW.
“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.”
This report comes after a social media campaign was launched in August calling for Iranian authorities to guarantee the right to education for Afghan children.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a ruling in 2015 that “no Afghan child, even the undocumented ones, should be left out of school”.
The sentiment was reiterated in a tweet last month:
No Afghan child in Iran, not even illegal immigrants, should be deprived of education & schools must enroll them.#Afghanistan— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 23, 2017
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