(CNSNews.com) – In its efforts to prop up its ally in Damascus, the Iranian regime has deployed its own military advisers, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units and Shi’a fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan – and now it appears to be recruiting its own children.
A promotional musical video aired on state television this week encourages children to join the fight in Syria – ready to become martyrs in the process – with Jerusalem as the ultimate goal.
The exiled opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which made available translated excerpts of the clip, said the initiative is reminiscent of Iran’s use of children in the 1980-88 war against Iraq.
NCRI says the video was produced by the propaganda arm of the regime’s paramilitary Basij, who members are typically young volunteers. Affiliated to the IRGC, the Basij is notorious for its role in rights abuses, including the violent crackdown following the disputed presidential election in 2009.
In the clip, children are heard to sing, in part: “On my leader’s orders I am ready to give my life. The goal is not just to free Iraq and Syria. My path is through the sacred shrine, but my goal is to reach Jerusalem.”
“I don’t regret parting from my country; In this just path I am wearing my martyrdom shroud … From Mashhad, I will walk on foot to Damascus. I am like the bird who flocks to the sacred shrine.”
NCRI says “leader” refers to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the “sacred shrine” to revered Shi’ite sites in Syria. Mashhad is a city in north-eastern Iran.
“This promotional clip manifests the anti-human nature of the regime which seeks to even mobilize the children of its own loyalists as cannon fodder,” Shahin Gobadi of the NCRI foreign affairs committee said in an email late Thursday.
“But politically, it vividly points to Tehran’s strategic deadlock in Syria, that subsequent to dispatching Revolutionary Guards, foreign mercenaries, and even regular army, it has to resort to this kind of tactics. It is really telling.”
Among forces fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the sectarian-fueled civil war are Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militia, and Afghan Shi’ites – including allegedly undocumented Afghans in Iran, forced to fight to avoid deportation or imprisonment.
The regime-affiliated Mehr News Agency reported early this month that at least 30 Basij members from one university had reportedly been killed in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Gobadi said the “disgraceful and inhumane” attempt to entice children to join the war would not help the regime get out of the “deadlock” he said it faces – “just as it failed to do so during the Iran-Iraq war.”
“Using children in political propaganda is outrageous,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights – a group of Iranian activists living outside the country – said early Friday.
“What we see here, is a clear and serious violation of the rights of the child,” he said. “It reminds me of the 1980s when the Iranian authorities used to send children to the war against Iraq. Some of these children were used to clean the minefields.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said the child recruiting drive may also indicate that the regime given up on recruiting adults to fight in Syria.
During the costly war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, tens of thousands of Iranian school children, drafted into the Basij, were deployed to the front where, according to published accounts they were used among other things to clear minefields with their bodies.
Iran’s total casualty figures in the war vary widely, from around 155,000 to 750,000, according to Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to Basij, almost one-third of Iranian fatalities during the war were aged 15-19, and about three percent were younger than 14.
According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, “States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities” and “States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces.”
Iran signed the convention in 1991, and in 2010 signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Iran is not a party, declares the conscripting of children under 15 years or their use in armed conflict to be a war crime.