Egypt: A watchdog reveals illegal recruitment of children in North Sinai

A new report by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights reveals untold stories about children that were illegally recruited by authorities and tribes to fulfill dangerous tasks in North Sinai, Egypt.

The report provides compelling evidence proving that the Egyptian authorities and the tribal groups loyal to the army illegally recruited children under the age of eighteen, to carry out tasks that put them at risk in confronting elements of the “Sinai Province” organization, which led to the death and injury of a number of these children, which is likely to be a war crime.

In 2013, an armed fight erupted between the Egyptian security forces and Wilayat Sina’, a local ISIS affiliate, in North Sinai.

Over the years, the hostilities between the two parties amounted to a non-international armed conflict that was marked by gross human rights violations against local residents, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and attacks on schools, from both parties.

Many of these violations amounted to war crimes. The local residents have also lived long years during the conflict lacking access to basic services such as electricity, food, car fuel, education, health care, in addition to irregular cuts of the internet services.

This report documents how the Egyptian armed forces or the pro-government armed militias, which the army increasingly relied on in the past few years, recruited and used children in their conflict with Wilayat Sina’.

Between 2013 – 2022, the Egyptian armed forces in North Sinai recruited children as young as 12, which is most likely a war crime.

The armed forces assigned some recruited children aged 15-18 with tasks such as spying or delivering food supplies, which exposed them to Wilayat Sina’.

The Wilayat Sina’ group chased these children and brutally killed them later. The Egyptian government failed to prevent its allied militias from recruiting and using children under 18 in hostilities against the Wilayat Sina’ group.

Some of these children were murdered by Wilayat Sina’ after the group discovered their role with the pro-government militias. In one case, the armed forces did involve an enlisted child directly in hostilities against Wilayat Sina’.

Under international law, governments are obliged neither to recruit nor enlist children under the age of 15. They are also obliged to protect children from physical and physiological violence as well as from armed conflicts. The governments should prevent the recruitment of children under 18 by armed groups, and they should ensure the release of those who are found to be recruited.

On its part, Sinai Foundation called on the Egyptian government to immediately halt the recruitment as well as the direct or indirect involvement of children in the North Sinai conflict.

“The government should immobilize any children associated with the pro-government militias fighting along with the army in the region. The United Nations Security Council should refer the non-international armed conflict situation in Egypt’s North Sinai to the International Criminal Court to investigate the possible war crimes of enlisting children under 15.”

The watchdog added that “The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child should extensively question Egypt in its September 2023 review about the involvement of children in the North Sinai conflict”.