Human Rights Watch has accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of committing war crimes by recruiting children as young as 14 years old from Afghanistan to fight in Syria.
The rights group said in a statement yesterday that the children fought mostly within the Fatemiyoun Brigade, an exclusively Afghan armed group backed by Iran alongside the Syrian government forces.
Rather than preying on vulnerable immigrant and refugee children, the Iranian authorities should protect all children and hold those responsible for recruiting Afghan children to account.
According to the organisation, under international law the training or deployment of soldiers younger than 15 is considered to be a war crime.
Human Rights Watch said it identified eight Afghan children who apparently fought and died in Syria after reviewing photos of tombstones in Iranian cemeteries where the authorities buried fighters who died in Syria.
According to the organisation, Iranian media has reported at least six more instances of Afghan child soldiers who died in Syria.
HRW quoted members of the fighters’ families as saying that their children sometimes change their age to join the Fatemiyoun Brigade.
The organisation’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson said: “Iran should immediately end the recruitment of child soldiers and bring back any Afghan children it has sent to fight in Syria.”
By 2015, the Iranian interior ministry estimated the number of Afghans in the country at 2.5 million, many of them did not have residency permits.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases of Afghan refugees in Iran who had volunteered to fight in Syria in an attempt to correct their families’ legal status.
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