to becoming fighters in combat.51 These children have no access to external information about
tolerance and the world outside of militant operations.
To teach their ‘Cubs,’ the Islamic State has created its own system of education, its own
curriculum, and its own version of history. Even something as simple as the English alphabet is
taught in conjunction with violence. When learning the alphabet, children of the Islamic State are
taught that “G” is for gun, paired with a picture of an AK-47, and that “S” is for sniper, shown
alongside a picture of an Islamic State fighter aiming his rifle.52 The textbooks used in the Islamic
State’s schools contain math problems that utilize images of weapons and tanks, side-by-side with
those of objects like fruit and flowers.53 The syllabus includes lesson plans on how to make
explosive belts, take female hostages, and set up booby-traps.54 The children are indoctrinated on
a daily basis. Violence is normalized.
The school is not just a place of “education” in the academic sense; it also provides an
opportunity for Islamic State personnel to scout children exhibiting physical acumen.55 Within the
school system, the Islamic State engenders a sense of prestige and competition among children by
telling them that not everyone will be allowed to become ashbal, or lion cubs.56 Children between
the ages of ten and fifteen who are chosen to become Cubs of the Caliphate face a grueling physical
and mental regimen that lasts between thirty and fifty days.57 Children who were in the Caliphate
and escaped have reported that the children face isolation from their families, sleep on flea-infested
mattresses, and are mentally and physically exhausted.58 This harsh environment gives rise to
camaraderie and manifests deep pride in the children for what they are able to endure.59
A. Why Children – and Why They Cannot be Held to a Standard of Capital Punishment
for Their Involvement with Violent Extremist Organizations
Children are an easy target for the Islamic State for two reasons: first, they have
underdeveloped brains and second, due to external communal pressures. Children are more
malleable to indoctrination and less likely to resist the persuasion to join the Islamic State because
they do not fully understand mortality.60 Research shows that because youth are still developing
51 Liesbeth van der Heide & Eva Entenmann, Juvenile Violent Extremist Offenders: Peer Pressure or Seasoned
Soldiers?, INT’L CTR. FOR COUNTER-TERRORISM (Sept. 12, 2016), https://icct.nl/publication/juvenile-violent-extremist-offenders-peer-pressure-or-seasoned-soldiers/.
52 John Huddy, ‘G’ is for gun: Troops find ISIS textbooks used to brainwash children, FOX NEWS (Mar. 7, 2017),
53 Engel, supra note 50.
54 ISIS brainwashed 400,000 kids in Mosul to fight, carry out suicide attacks – report, RT (Nov. 16, 2016, 8:38 AM),
55 John Horgan & Mia Bloom, This is How the Islamic State Manufactures Child Militants, VICE NEWS (July 8, 2015),
60 Children and Violent Extremism: International Standards and Responses from Criminal Justice Systems, PENAL
REFORM INT’L, 1, 2 (Mar. 2017), https://www.penalreform.org/resource/children-violent-extremism-international-standards-responses-criminal-justice/ [hereinafter Children and Violent Extremism].