Ayad was just twelve years old when he was sent to a training camp by IS to become a child soldier. The Yazidi boy was forced into war against his own people and was even made to participate in an IS propaganda video.
“I was happy in my former life, but I’ve lost my childhood,” he explains in an episode of Dateline titled 'I.S. KIDS', to air Tuesday July 11.
During training, the child soldier was woken up at 4am every morning.
“We had to wash and pray. After prayers, we had circles to read the Koran and then came training. We were taught to plant explosives,” Ayad recounts.
"It was introductory training. They said that with bombs, your first mistake would be your last. They’d beat us with electric cable if we didn’t learn our lessons. They fired close to our feet to make us run faster.”
Now 14, Ayad is one of the lucky few who not only survived, but was reunited with his family in Germany.
Sofia Amara, one of the filmmakers behind the compelling documentary, tells marie claire about the many complications indoctrinated child soldiers may face.
“I talked to a psychologist in Germany who told me the problem with these kids is they’re like sponges. When you are a little boy until 14 or 15, anything you get, you believe,” she says.
“The psychologist told me we don’t know how to deal with this because this is very new. We know how to deal with radicalised adults, but children—we don’t know.”
Amara, a mother herself, says targeting children is the lowest if the low. “If you touch childhood, it’s the end of any humanity.”
Other children recruited by IS were less fortunate than Ayad and lost their life on the front line. In the documentary, another interviewee explains that children between the ages of 10-15 were sent to fight for IS in Mosul.
“IS sends children at our troops to blow themselves up in suicide bombings,” he says.
How does he tell if the soldiers are children? “A boy without a beard is still a child or a teenager.”
The film also features three siblings—including a young girl—who were held captive for over two years by IS with their mother. What they experienced during that period are horrors no adult, let alone children, should have to face.
The siblings were ordered to attack and kill a man who had been bound and blindfolded.
“The little girl was made to kill. She didn’t want to do it, she didn’t believe in this ideology,” Amara recounts.
The sister recalls in the documentary: “He came along and said, “You cut off a foot, you cut off an arm, and you slash his face with a knife, otherwise I’ll take you away from your mother and kill you all.”
She describes in chilling detail how she and her brothers were given machetes. “I had to cut his hand off. I did it,” she recounts.
“Even if we get rid of these monsters, later on there is a whole generation who are either brainwashed and convinced, or at least have been hearing and finding this normal,” Amara says.
“So we have a big problem there, not only for the countries that are concerned, Iraq and Syria, but for the whole world.”
Watch Dateline, Tuesday 9.30pm on SBS