Hundreds of Iraqi children suspected of IS allegiance arrested
Iraq and the Kurdish regional government have charged hundreds of children with terrorism over alleged affiliation with the Islamic State group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said.
The group estimates approximately 1,500 children are being held in detention for alleged IS affiliation by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. The report released on Wednesday, titled "Everyone Must Confess" revealed torture was often used to coerce confession.
"Children accused of affiliation with ISIS are being detained, and often tortured and prosecuted, regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
"This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children."
The report said children recruited by armed groups should be recognised primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
Arrest for suspected IS affiliation can lead to permanent separation from family and community. Children said they feared returning home after release, since the arrest automatically brands them as IS.
Screening processes that lead to detention are often flawed, and some children are prosecuted despite having no actual involvement with IS. A 17-year-old was detained after his work in a Mosul restaurant brought him in contact IS members.
"Iraq and the KRG's harsh treatment of children looks more like blind vengeance than justice for ISIS crimes," Becker said, "Children involved in armed conflicts are entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration, not torture and prison".
At the end of 2018, 1,500 children were being detained for suspected IS affiliation. Around 185 foreign children have also been convicted on terrorism charges, according to Iraqi government sources.
Many of the children interviewed by HRW said torture led to their confession and that their trials lasted only five to ten minutes.
Iraq declared victory against IS in December 2017 after three years of battles. The militant group is now facing defeat by the Kurdish-led SDF in its last square mile in eastern Syria.
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