A Swedish woman has been charged with war crimes for bringing her young son to Syria, where he was enlisted as a child soldier, and ultimately killed in the country’s long-simmering conflict, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority alleges the unidentified woman brought her son to Syria in August 2013, when he was 12 years old. From then until May 2016, the child engaged directly and consistently in hostilities perpetrated by various armed groups, including the Islamic State, prosecutors say.
“The investigation has shown that while he was living at home, the son was educated and trained to participate in hostilities, that he was provided with military equipment and weapons, and that he was used in combat and for propaganda purposes, as well as for other operations related to warfare,” prosecutor Reena Devgun said, as quoted in the statement.
The case will be heard by the Stockholm District Court. The defendant, who returned to Sweden from Syria in December 2020, maintains her innocence. This is the first time Swedish prosecutors have brought war-crime charges in the country related to the recruitment of child soldiers, the statement said.
The boy died in 2017, when he was 16 years old. The facts underlying the war crimes charges focus on his involvement in the Syrian conflict between the ages of 12 and 14, due apparently to the fact that the use of child soldiers under 15 years old is proscribed internationally by both treaty and customary law, and is defined as a war crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Although international law provides various protections for soldiers under the age of 18, those under 15 are afforded more comprehensive legal cover, as explained by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Syria is a hotbed for the recruitment of child soldiers. According to a 2021 UN report on children in armed conflict, between July 2018 and June 2020, upwards of 1,400 children were recruited or used for conflict-related purposes by at least 25 different parties to the country’s long-simmering conflict.
The Islamic State is known for having prioritized the recruitment of child soldiers. According to a 2020 report by the Middle East Initiative, the organization recruited children by offering monthly stipends for the families of each child recruit, as well as free “educational” programming, which comprised indoctrination efforts and basic military training.