Egyptian children are being recruited to fight for pro-government militias in the North Sinai where an Islamic State group insurgency is raging, The New Arab’s Arabic sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported on Wednesday.
Images circulated online show children carrying guns as part of armed tribal formations, apparently taking part in military operations in the cities of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.
These operations are aimed at crushing an ongoing insurgency in the peninsula – most notably by IS militants – in an area blighted by instability and poverty.
Alleged members of the Sinai Tribal Union have broadcasted videos on various platforms, including Facebook, showing armed children in its ranks.
The Sinai Tribal Union is believed to be affiliated with the Egyptian Intelligence Services.
Witnesses told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the tribal force encourages children, aged under-18, to take part in counter-insurgency operations, particularly those with family members already in the force.
In a bid to find new fighters, the tribal union has also resorted to recruiting homeless people in the Sinai, witnesses said.
The Egyptian army does not prevent or return children found in the tribal militias despite more than 100 of them being killed in battle, according to activist Zohdi Jawad.
“When you convince a generation to take up arms as a solution to the prevailing crises and problems, then you only expect chaos. There is no law, no reason, or conscience that accepts children being part of the war,” he told the newspaper.
Rights groups, such as the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, said the phenomenon of child recruitment, which is against international law, has become “alarming”.
International law stresses the protection of children’s rights, especially during armed conflict.
The Sinai Foundation for Human Rights has urged authorities to observe Egyptian law, which states the minimum age for military recruitment is 18.
The group also called on officials to “comprehensively prevent the involvement of children in armed actions through tribal groups loyal to the army in Sinai”.
Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.