ATLANTA–The Islamic State’s use of children and youth for military ends, including as soldiers, suicide bombers and propagandists, has become routine and is accelerating, a study by Georgia State University researchers shows.
Their report, “Depictions of Children and Youth in the Islamic State’s Martyrdom Propaganda, 2015-2016,” was published in the February 2016 issue of the West Point Counter Terrorism Center’s journal, the CTC Sentinel.
It comprises the first data-based analysis of how the Islamic State, also commonly referred to in the United States as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), exploits young people. The findings are based on a coded archive of Islamic State propaganda compiled and analyzed by Georgia State researchers.
Seeking to delve beyond mainstream media reporting on the Islamic State’s children and youth, the researchers examined images and photographic reports of 89 young “martyrs” that appeared in the organization’s propaganda between January 2015 and January 2016. Their findings challenge what many in the West have come to expect from the use of child soldiers:
- Children are not being used simply to buoy Islamic State’s ranks, nor are they participating in roles for which adults are unsuited. They are operating as foot soldiers, suicide bombers, marauders and propagandists.
- Age does not seem to be an important factor to the Islamic State propagandists. Children and youth are being mobilized and eulogized after their deaths just like adults.
- The number of child “martyrs” dying in the Islamic State’s name may be as many as three times the most commonly cited estimates.
- On a month-by-month basis, the rate of young people killing themselves in the Islamic State’s name is rising. Over the last year, it has almost doubled (from six per month to 11 per month), reflecting the fact that there were three times as many operations involving children in January 2016 than January 2015.
The research team included Professor Mia Bloom of the Department of Communication, Professor John Horgan of the Department of Psychology and the university’s Global Studies Institute and Senior Research Associate Charlie Winter of the university’s Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative.
“Children and youth are being recruited at a rate much faster than they are dying,” Bloom said. “It’s clear that the Islamic State leadership has a long-term vision for people that encompasses more than just propaganda.
“As such, it is impossible to envisage a post-Islamic State world without first devising an integrated strategy for disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating the hundreds and possibly thousands of children and youth that it is indoctrinating and training.”
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Georgia State Featured Faculty
Professor of Communication Middle East Studies Center
Bloom conducts ethnographic field research in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia and speaks eight languages. She has authored several books and articles on terrorism and violent extremism including Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005), Living Together After Ethnic Killing [with Roy Licklider] (2007) and Bombshell: Women and Terror (2011).
Professor, Global Studies Institute Department of Psychology
Horgan studies the processes through which people become involved in (and disengage from) terrorism, as well as the psychological mechanisms through which people transfer guilt and conceal disillusionment as coping mechanisms for sustained commitment to violent extremist groups. His most recent book is The Psychology of Terrorism (2nd Edition).
Senior Research Associate
Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative
In addition to managing a Department of Defense Minerva Research Initiative Project, Preventing the Next Generation: Mapping the Pathways of Child Mobilization into Violent Extremist Organizations, Winter is quantitatively and qualitatively assessing Islamic State’s outreach strategy, and specializing in the sourcing, translation, and analysis of Arabic-language documents circulated online by jihadists.