At least 1,500 children are being held by federal and Kurdish authorities in Iraq for alleged links to ISIS, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
A report published last month says the children are frequently arrested without reason or evidence and then tortured into making false confessions.
HRW has urged the federal and Kurdistan Region’s governments to change its anti-terrorism laws to stop such detentions, adding that they violate international law.
The Kurdistan Region’s government has previously rejected an HRW report which claimed that children were being tortured to confess to links with ISIS.
In January, a Kurdish official said its policy was to “rehabilitate” these children by offering them the same rights as other prisoners, and that torture was banned.
The 53-page report says that at the end of last year, the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities detained about 1,500 children for alleged links to ISIS.
HRW cites the Iraqi government as saying that at least 185 non-Iraqi children have been convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to prison
The report claims that the local authorities:
- Sentence suspects in hasty and unfair trials
- Use torture to coerce confessions
- Often arrest and prosecute children with any perceived connection to ISIS
Joe Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW said: “This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children.”
Last November, HRW interviewed 29 children held for alleged links to ISIS.
It says 19 children reported that they had been tortured, including beatings with rods, electric cables and pipes.
The report also highlighted that majority of the children interviewed said they had joined ISIS because of financial hardship, and pressure from family or friends.
Some also said they joined because of family issues or a desire to attain social status.
HRW says that those Iraqi children who have been released are too scared to return home because of the stigma of ISIS membership and a threat of reprisal attacks.
The human rights group emphasised that international law acknowledges children recruited by armed groups as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society.