Child soldiers feared to be among remaining ISIL fighters in Marawi

World Today

After weeks of fighting, the Philippine armed forces said they’ve nearly driven out ISIL-affiliated forces from the southern city of Marawi.

They said there are now fewer than a hundred militants left in the city. But among them may still be some child combatants.

CGTN’s Barnaby Lo talked to one teenager about why he fought for the group.

Almost seven weeks now and there’s still no letup in military offensives against ISIL-allied fighters in the southern city of Marawi. Even with their numbers dwindling, the militants are still putting up stiff resistance.

“They have a lot of ammunition,” said Abdul. “They were already stockpiling weapons a month before the war began in Marawi.”

Abdul, whose identity we can’t reveal, said he knows this because he fought alongside the extremists for a week. Abdul is 17-year- old but his first encounter, he said , with what he believes is the same group in Marawi now, was when he was only 12.

“We were gathered in a mosque,” said the former child soldier. “Many of us were children. We were told to go with them so and they would give us some help. When we got to their camp, I saw some sort of military training. We got paid and were told it was the Army.”

The use of child soldiers by ISIL-allied militants here in the Philippines has actually been going on for years. That’s according to terrorism experts and the military. In fact, it dates back to the days before ISIL came to prominence, well before the siege began here in Marawi.

“As the war dragged on, we were told by the leader, Isnilon Hapilon, to get out of Marawi so that if they die, we would be able to continue the fight,” Abdul said.

But he left the group instead, after he realized militant recruiters lied to them.

“I saw an opportunity to go inside a mosque where there were civilians,” he said. “I changed my clothes and then I left with the crowd.”

How many minors are still fighting with the militants is hard to determine at this point, but Abdul says said were a number of them, including one who was just 7-years-old.