Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Afghan children as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The division is made up of Afghan volunteers supported by Iran, fighting with government forces in Syria.
The HRW released a report on Sunday based on photographs of tombstones in Iranian cemeteries where combatants killed in Syria had been buried. One of the eight graves showed a 14-year-old buried in the martyr’s section of Tehran’s Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery.
Iranian media reported confirmation of some of the cases and cited six others of Afghan child soldiers who had died in Syria.
The HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said, “Iran should immediately end the recruitment of child soldiers and bring back any Afghan children it has sent to fight in Syria.”
For two of the reported cases, researchers reviewed photographs of tombstones that indicated the individual was under the age of 18.
Family members of these deceased fighters told Iranian media that they were children who had misrepresented their age to join the Fatemiyoun division.
Earlier this year, Afghan fighters had told HRW that they saw children in training camps for Afghan forces that were being deployed to Syria.
In August, Ali, a 29-year-old Afghan, told HRW that he talked to 16- and 17-year-old child soldiers who were being trained to fight in Syria.
He told HRW that he joined the Fatemiyoun division after a recruiter approached him while he was trying to renew his residency permit at the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) office in a city outside Tehran. The Afghan said that the recruiter told him he could get his residency permit if he joined up.