The Islamic State (IS) militant group in Iraq is using children as suicide bombers, abducting them and selling them as sex slaves, and deploying them as human shields, a United Nations watchdog has said.
In a report published on February 4, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said that it is "seriously concerned" about the large numbers of children recruited by armed groups in Iraq, especially by the IS group.
According to the report, IS militants are particularly targeting vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities, those living on the street, refugee children, and those who have lost their parents, as well as children from Syria and Turkey who have found themselves in Iraq.
The UN report expressed concern about the "systematic sexual violence committed against children" by the IS group, which has targeted children, particularly those from minorities, for abduction and sexual enslavement.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expert Renate Winter told reporters at a February 4 press briefing that the "scope of the problem is huge."
Winter said that the IS group has targeted not only children from minority groups like the Yazidis and Christians, but also Shi'ite and Sunni children.
Since it took control of Mosul in June 2014, IS has killed and displaced thousands of religious minorities in northern Iraq. The group has captured, raped, and tortured hundreds of women and girls -- including children -- from the Yazidi minority. Some of those subjected to such treatment by the IS group have been driven to suicide.
According to the UN, Islamic State is using children in Iraq as suicide bombers. Among those used in this way are children with disabilities or those who have been sold to the IS group by their families.
Committee expert Winter told the Reuters news agency that there have been reports of mentally challenged children who have been deployed by IS militants as suicide bombers "probably without them even understanding."
The militants are also making use of children as human shields in order to protect the IS group's facilities from air strikes.
Moreover, Islamic State has targeted teachers and health personnel for executions and has subjected schools, recreational areas, and hospitals to targeted attacks, the report found.
Children as young as 12 are being subjected to military training in Mosul. Those trained are used in a variety of ways, including as bomb makers, guards at checkpoints, and even to assist in kidnappings, the report says.
Winter noted that there have been videos shared online that showed children as young as eight training to become child soldiers.
The IS group in Syria as well as Iraq has not hidden its provision of military training for children and their use as suicide bombers. The militants have highlighted the fact, including in a video released in November that showed a group of ethnic Kazakh children undergoing military training. A young boy, apparently also an ethnic Kazakh, was shown in a second video released in January, in which the child appeared to carry out the execution-style killings of two Russian-speaking men.
Images of children carrying guns or knives and dressed as soldiers are frequently shared on social media accounts belonging to Russian-speaking militants who are fighting alongside the IS group in Syria and Iraq.
It is not just the IS group which is using children, however. The report also found that children are being recruited into militias that support the Iraqi government, while Syrian refugee children in Iraq are put under pressure to return to Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk