Children as young as five years old are being used by the Taliban to lay bombs and carry weapons in Afghanistan, a media report said.
In the past five months, the number of child insurgents has increased almost five-fold in the town of Sangin in Helmand province, to a band of 40, who are used to run weapons, plant bombs and carry out tasks for the Taliban, The Daily Telegraph reported.
According to military intelligence sources, there are about 12 children being routinely used in the Sangin area just to plant bombs.
The Taliban have resorted to the tactic because they know that British troops are unlikely to fire at children planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the report said.
On one occasion surveillance cameras picked up two children under 10 walking along the main road with one placing an IED in a hole followed by another covering it up with a bag of stone and earth.
"They know that we won't engage the kids," said an intelligence source with 40 Commando, Royal Marines, based in Sangin. "The kids are less aware of the risks and ready to do anything for a quick buck."
There have been 44 roadside bombs in Sangin in the past months, a fifth were carried out by children, the daily said.
Children are also used to approach Royal Marine patrols to identify commanders or officers who are then targeted by bombers or gunmen.
Taliban commanders are also thought to develop a "cult of hero worship" around children, the report added.