cognitively, they tend to act more impulsively.61 They lack the maturity of judgment and do not
have a rigid moral compass.62
There are several factors that push youth toward the influences of terrorist organizations. First,
these organizations offer economic incentives, and youth tend to take more risks for less pay than
adults do.63 Second, those with parents and family members who are already members of violent
extremist organizations are groomed from birth to join the ranks.64 Third, youth who are looking
to escape marginalization from their community find protection in violent extremist
organizations.65 There are additional factors that pull youth into terrorist organizations, including
non-pecuniary rewards such as a sense of honor and duty, a heightened social status, and the
charismatic leadership and propaganda of the organizations.66 These factors play a major role in
the lives of the children involved with the Islamic State.
B. Child Soldiers and the Islamic State
Many circumstances drive children into the hands of the Islamic State. Most of the children
that are drawn in by the Islamic State are saddled with vulnerabilities, such as lack of economic
opportunity; disruptive social context and experiences of violence, displacement, trauma, and loss;
deprivation of psychological needs for efficacy, autonomy and purpose; and degradation of
education infrastructure and opportunities to learn.67 Additionally, the Islamic State has
historically gone to houses and forced parents to hand their children over.68 Finally, some families
force their children to join the organization in order to receive a salary that goes directly to the
Although the use of child soldiers is not novel, the Islamic State’s tactics do not follow the
trends of previous militant organizations.70 Where, historically, child soldiers have been used
because they provided a specific technical advantage in combat, the Islamic State seemingly treats
their child soldiers no differently than their adult soldiers.71 This can be seen in a report published
by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Academy, which suggests that the Islamic
State’s systematic use of children is even more widespread than previously imagined.72 Of the
eighty-nine cases analyzed in the Combating Terrorism Center’s study, 39% of the children died
61 Van der Heide & Entenmann, supra note 51.
63 Melissa Lefas, Juvenile Violent Extremist Offenders in the Prison System, GLOB. CTR. ON COOP. SEC. 1, 21 (Sept.
1, 2016), http://www.cep-probation.org/wp-content/uploads/Presentation-Melissa-Lefas-Juvenile-Violent-Extremist-Offenders-in-the-Prison-System.pdf.
64 Id. at 22.
66 Id. at 23.
67 Children and Violent Extremism, supra note 60, at 1.
68 Callum Paton, Caliphate Cubs of Isis: Inside the Dark World of Islamic State’s Cadres of Child Soldiers, INT’L
BUS. TIMES (Dec. 14, 2015), www.ibtimes.co.uk/caliphate-cubs-isis-inside-dark-world-islamic-states-cadres-child-
70 Erin McLaughlin, How ISIS Recruits Children, Then Kills Them, CNN (Feb. 22, 2016, 9:28 AM),
72 Mia Bloom, John Horgan, & Charlie Winter, Depictions of Children and Youth in the Islamic State’s Martyrdom
Propaganda, 2015-2016, 9 COMBATTING TERRORISM CTR. SENTINEL 1, 29 (Feb. 2016),