Syrian rebel factions have recruited teenagers as young as 15 to fight in the country's civil war, using them in roles ranging from soldiers and snipers to stretcher bearers and suicide bombers, a rights group said on Monday.
Human Rights Watch said rebel groups across the ideological spectrum have employed children in the conflict, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front as well as the al Qaeda breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Military and police forces in Kurdish-controlled areas have also used teenagers, it said.
"Syrian armed groups shouldn't prey on vulnerable children - who have seen their relatives killed, schools shelled, and communities destroyed - by enlisting them in their forces," said Priyanka Motaparthy, the author of the 31-page report. "The horrors of Syria's armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines."
Human Rights Watch said the extremist Nusra Front and the Islamic State have both targeted children through education programs, which include military training. Teenage former fighters told Human Rights Watch how commanders encouraged the youths to volunteer for suicide missions.
HRW said some opposition groups have moved to end the use of teenage fighters commended Syria's main Western-backed political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, and Kurdish officials have both declared their commitment to ending the practice.
Human Rights Watch, which said the number of children fighting in the conflict is unknown, based its report on interviews with 25 children and former child soldiers in Syria. It said the report does not cover pro-government militias, which are also alleged to have used child fighters.
The reasons the young fighters joined the armed groups varies, according to the report. Some followed family members or friends, while others were already in conflict zones and have no other options.