Bringing Children Home: A children's rights approach to returning from ISIL

An estimated 4,640 children travelled to Iraq or Syria, either alone or with their families, to join the so-called Islamic State. Since the fall of the terrorist group, many have been living in displacement camps in northern-Syria under deplorable conditions. In the al-Hol camp alone, 371 children died during 2019.

Children who were recruited by the group have been used to carry weapons, guard strategic locations and arrest civilians, subjected to sexual violence and forced marriage, and exploited in suicide bombings. Many more children have been born to parents within the camps. Regardless of whether these children or their parents were recruited by ISIL, they are victims of serious human rights abuses.

The situation for children living in these camps is dire, requiring an urgent response. International human rights law must form the basis of this response and States must accept responsibility for children who are their citizens.

CRIN and partners recommend that States urgently take the following steps:

  1. The recruitment of children by all armed groups, including terrorist groups, must be criminalised to ensure accountability for this exploitation of children;

  2. Children should not be criminalised purely for their association or membership of a terrorist group;

  3. States must never deprive a child of their nationality, regardless of whether they have been recruited by a terrorist group;

  4. States must accept responsibility for children who are their citizens, ensuring that they are able to return to their country;

  5. Ensure that children are able to access health, education and other services while awaiting return from displacement camps;

  6. States must ensure that children are not separated from their parents unless it is in the child’s best interests. To ensure no separation, States must consider repatriating entire families;

  7. Children should never be detained because of their immigration status or subjected to preventive or administrative detention for counter-terrorism purposes;

  8. Children recruited by terrorist groups should be recognised as victims of grave human rights abuses and States should facilitate their recovery and rehabilitation;

  9. States should develop specialised rehabilitation and reintegration services for child returnees, including health, education, vocational and social support that takes account of an individual child’s gender, age and cultural background; and

  10. In exceptional situations when people are prosecuted for criminal offences committed as children while they were part of a terrorist group, States must guarantee the full protections of a specialised child justice system and specialised diversion and restorative justice practices.