How children lived in Raqqa under ISIS

As ISIS’ rapid demise continues across Iraq and Syria, further testimonies have emerged from civilians who lived under the group’s rule in Raqqa.

Among these testimonies are heartbreaking stories from children, who were hit hardest by the group’s indoctrination and brutal tactics. ISIS’ special division of child soldiers, the so-called Cubs of the Caliphate, was devoted to militarising young people and desensitising them to violence, while simultaneously training them in the group’s ideology and warfare.

Many children were also exploited by the group as propaganda tools and exposed to violent acts. Others who escaped the so-called Islamic State recall how ISIS militants destroyed school life, killing those who didn’t fit with the group’s narrow and deadly ideology, thus halting their education for several years.

“We used to go to school and when ISIS came, they did not allow us to study. They forbade us from everything, they did not allow us to read or even enjoy our lives,” said a young girl.

“Even the university student, the intellectual and school principal, they would take anyone and kill him, then they either buried him in the dirt or finished him,” said another child, with his face covered sitting in an IDP camp.

For the children from Raqqa, the hope is that many will overcome the nightmarish vision of the past and live free of ISIS rule. But rehabilitating children who have lived under ISIS control for almost four years will be a challenge, and will require specialised treatment and coordination.

In an IDP camp for those displaced from Raqqa, the charity al-Ber and al-Ihsan has set up a project entitled ‘Friendly Space for a Child,’ which aims to help children overcome the traumatic memories of the past.

From 8am to 2pm, the children take part in different recreational, sporting and creative activities. Although the project only accommodates 350 children, this is a positive step towards ridding young people of the dark past, and giving them a light for the future.