Following the political and social turmoil that was the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iraq was on the opportunistic offensive. Fearful that its own oppressed Shia population might rise up against the state and desirous of achieving the status of premier Persian Gulf state, Iraq attacked Iran without any warning on September 22, 1980.
Iran retaliated quickly–and unconventionally–and even used child soldiers in the process. While the minimum fighting age was 16, it was not uncommon to see 12 year olds engaged in battle, donning “keys to paradise” distributed by the Ayatollah for use in heaven upon their virtually assured death. Often used as human mine clearers, estimated death tolls of these children soldiers are as high as 100,000.
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Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedientsociety breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.
Poverty and lack of access to educational or work opportunities are additional factors – with joining up often holding out either the promise or the reality of an income or a means of getting one. Coupled with this may be a desire for power, status or social recognition. Family and peer pressure to join up for ideological or political reasons or to honour family tradition may also be motivating factors. Girl soldiers have reported joining up to escape domestic servitude or enforced marriage or get away from domestic violence, exploitation and abuse.
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Iran's Islamic regime is using "child soldiers" to suppress anti-government demonstrations, a tactic that could breach international law forbidding the use of underage combatants, human rights activists have told the Observer.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says troops aged between 14 and 16 have been armed with batons, clubs and air guns and ordered to attack demonstrators who have tried to gather in Tehran. The youths – apparently recruited from rural areas – are being deployed in regular riot police roles and comprise up to one-third of the total force, according to witnesses.