February 24, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2059

London Daily 'Al-Hayat' Investigates Phenomenon of Child Warriors in Lebanon

February 24, 2009
Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 2059

An investigative article in the London daily Al-Hayat reveals that various factions in Lebanon recruit and train child warriors. These children are paraded armed and in uniform at political rallies, and even participate in violent operations. The article states that there have been child warriors in Lebanon since its civil war (1975-1990), and warns that these children are a "ticking bomb" threatening the future of Lebanese society.

Following are excerpts from the article:[1]

Child Warriors During the Lebanese Civil War

According to the article, the phenomenon of child warriors was documented during the civil war, when the fighting militias enlisted the help of volunteers aged 14 and over to dispatch supplies to the front lines, and also provided them with military training. The article states that many of these young recruits were addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other substances.

Child Warriors Today

The article speculates that joining a militia bolsters the children's self-confidence. Human rights activist Fadi Abi 'Allam says in the article that "carrying arms makes the children feel like heroes, and the factions [exploit this] by promising them this exhilarating feeling. They also give the children a little money." 'Allam stresses that "the factions fill an emotional void in these children's lives and play on their sense of ethnic [loyalty]."

The article adds that during the May 2008 clashes in Beirut, "children armed to the teeth were seen wandering in the streets of the city." A woman told the paper: "Five boys... came into my home. One of them spoke to me rudely, and I said to him, 'Shame on you, you are the same age as my son.' He asked me, 'How old is your son?' and I answered 'Seventeen.' [The boy] replied, 'Your son is older [than me].'" The article adds that although the various factions and youth movements deny providing the children with military training, some children "boast to their friends that they are well acquainted with the use of arms because they have received military training from some faction or another."

Ahmad, 14, Emulates His Father the Shahid

The article tells of a boy named Ahmad whose determination to join a militia and fight prompted his mother to emigrate with him to Canada. "Ahmad is a 14-year-old from Bab Al-Tabaneh [in Tripoli]. His father, a soldier in the Lebanese army, was martyred in [the refugee camp of] Nahr Al-Bared during the battle between Fath Al-Islam and the Lebanese army a year ago. [Ahmad] has a Lebanese army uniform, a gift from one of his father's friends. After he returned to the village without his father, he [began to] wear this uniform every Wednesday – the day on which his father would report for army duty... After saluting himself [in the mirror] and making sure that he was ready, he would go to his father's picture in the living room, stand before it, and salute again... He refused to take off the uniform until sundown." According to the article, Ahmad's mother was not too concerned about his behavior "until she noticed how excited he got whenever he heard of some security incident. [Even then], she thought that he was only trying to emulate his father, until she heard him asking a relative when he could join the army. When he was told that he would have to wait until he was 18, he asked if he could join the resistance. Upon receiving the same answer, he said that there were children his age who already knew how to fight, especially in the Palestinian refugee camps."

Ahmad's mother added, "His enthusiasm grew when [he heard] the talk about children participating in the [May 2008] attack on Beirut. The situation deteriorated with the spread of [violence] to Bab Al-Tabaneh and Ba'al Muhsin; Ahmad expressed a willingness to fight, for any side [that would take him]. His primary goal was to carry arms, and he was willing to join any side that would take a strong [young boy] without asking about his age." The paper reported that Ahmad's mother eventually decided to take advantage of her Canadian citizenship and leave the country with her son.

The following are photos from the article:

[1] Al-Hayat (London), July 20, 2008.

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