Young Terrorists or Child Soldiers? ISIS Children, International Law and Victimhood




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Oxford University Press



Peer reviewed



Since the Syrian conflict broke out, a significant number of Western citizens travelled to the warzone to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). By common definitions, some of the persons travelled as ‘children’. However, since the defeat of ISIS, Western countries are facing a conundrum on how to treat these young former fighters. The status of these children has been contentious. Among the Western countries, there does not seem to be a clear position or consistent approach on how such children should be treated. It would appear that the approaches towards the dilemma on these young persons have, predominantly, been dictated by the political whims of individual states. Generally, the children have been regarded as young ‘terrorists’ likely to pose danger to Western societies if repatriated back. However, the perceptions and actions towards these minors seem to depart from the normative approaches to children associated with armed conflict. The widely reported case of British teenager Shamima Begum shone the spotlight on the predicaments of children formerly associated with ISIS. This article makes a case for the treatment of ISIS-associated children to be considered as child soldiers. When analysed closely, these children deserve protections accorded to all children recruited for purposes of warfare. Recent case law seems to imply that such protection does not cease even after the age of 18 years. All considered, the denial of repatriation appears inimical to normative standards on children associated with armed conflict. Furthermore, the approaches of some of the Western countries could be vulnerable to criticism for violation of the rule of law. The arbitrary revocation of citizenship and barring of returns appear starkly in conflict with norms of natural justice. With this in mind, this article asserts that a consistent approach would require the Western approaches to treat ISIS-associated children as victims first and accord them protections recognised in international law.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


ISIS, terrorists, child soldiers, Begum, victims


Nyamutata, C. (2020) Young Terrorists or Child Soldiers? ISIS Children, International Law and Victimhood. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, krz034


Research Institute

Centre for Law, Justice and Society