Islamic State is deliberately targeting children for indoctrination in Iraq and Syria, according to counter-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation.
In a report released today, The Children of Islamic State, Quilliam says there are 31,000 pregnant women in the so-called 'caliphate' and that as many as 50 children from the UK are "growing up on jihad" in Islamic State.
It says children feature in violent ISIS videos and that in the last six months, ISIS propaganda has depicted 12 child 'executioners'. One child has participated in a public execution.
The report says children are abducted and forced to join ISIS forces and are also pressured to join the group out of fear. According to Quilliam, "Children can not only assist in meeting the present needs of the 'caliphate', but can continue to propagate its existence and expansion once they grow up, thus securing the long-term survival of the 'caliphate'."
It also says the current generation of fighters sees children as potentially more lethal than themselves as they have been "indoctrinated into extreme values from birth or at a young age".
The report also says that "the prolonged exposure and desensitisation to violence that children experience affects their physical and psychological well-being, both in the short term and in the long term."
Drawing on experience working with child soldiers in Lebanon, Iraq and several African countries as well as on work with young gang members in the UK, it proposes a thorough reassessment process for children who leave or escape, so that their needs can be established and appropriate help given.
It says there need to be deradicalisation programmes and support networks to help children adjust to living in normal society.
The report concludes: "The current model used by child protection agencies – the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration model (DDR) – does not sufficiently address the religious and political indoctrination used by IS [to] contribute to its larger 'utopia' and state-building project. Such programs have a history of focusing on immediate physical health needs, and last for too short of a time to properly address de-radicalisation and rehabilitate child soldiers.
"Thus a reformed strategy is proposed, which takes into account respect – respect to hold political or religious views which are free from violent expression. We hope that our proposed reintegration network will help children find a sense of belonging in their new community, and craft an individual identity."