Indoctrination – Lasting Effects on Children and Conflicts
Tuesday 10/12/2019

Indoctrination as a concept can be divisive and problematic. To an extent it can be positive, as this allows for the creation of communities that share the same values, giving stability to the people of those groups. However, it can also be dangerous

To differentiate between the positive and negative sides of indoctrination, Tom Nachtigal’s definition[1] will be used.  As such, in this context, indoctrination will be defined as “teaching with the intention of instilling certain beliefs and propositions among pupils, by disregarding evidence, reasoning, and logic in the teaching process”. More specifically, this article will focus on systematic indoctrination into hatred and violence and its lasting consequences.

As referred above, vulnerable groups such as children (which according to the Rome Statute are persons below 15 years old) are more sensitive to these influences, as their associated naivety makes them more likely to process information without questioning it.

The resulting consequence of indoctrination can be catastrophic. Children of all ages can suffer unimaginable amounts of pain simply by trusting the teachings of a wrong adult. And from all the possible horrors they could face, it is in becoming a soldier that this article will focus on. Throughout conflict areas in the world, from Colombia to the Philippines, children have been sought and used as tools for war.[2]

Such was the case with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the ultra-nationalist heterodox group that terrorized Uganda from the 1980’s. Currently dispersed between the borders of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan, this group is known for abducting the majority of their top leaders while they were kids.

After weaponizing these children, they were then used to cause mayhem, killing and abducting tens of thousands of other children along the way. By continuing this practice, conflict ensued, displacing almost 500,000 people in the Ugandan plains during the group’s active years[3]. Even though they are largely inactive in currently, the story of the rebel militia is still being mirrored throughout our world. And the effect of such practices is felt to this day.

As reported by the Washington Post[4], abducted children that manage to defect from the LRA face an arduous uphill battle for reintegration. After serving under uneducated authoritarian superiors, who mercilessly kill any caught defector by way of a firing squad, the surviving children face the mental adjustment to day-to-day life. This is compounded by the added paranoia-like pressure of seeing comrades get promoted through informing on each other, and “commanders” being punished for doing acts of kindness. This results in severe mental health issues that surface many months after their release. PTSD is common and in extreme cases, suicide is an escape from the horrors faced during their time as conscripted soldiers.

This fear-based indoctrination of children by the LRA finds its direct counterpart in Hamas’s indoctrination. The terrorist organization has a reported use of 17,000 children, directly or indirectly, throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than abducting, Hamas ensures that from an early age the children of the Gaza Strip are slowly pushed to dehumanize and stigmatize the Israeli citizen.

In kindergarten, through their considerable influence in the region, Hamas uses the public Al-Aqsa channel to broadcast anti-Semitic shows that promote a jihadist mindset and violence against the Israeli forces.[5]

This is then furthered by the dubious curriculum employed in the Gaza Strip (and in many cases, the remaining Palestinian territories).[6] There are reported uses of clear ennoblement of martyrdom, in particular against the Israeli enemy, and incitement to violence.[7]

Despite all this, Hamas further organizes summer camps each year whereby teenagers reportedly use and practice gunplay and military-like exercises. [8]In addition, preachers (religious authorities of the region) stimulate the aforementioned feelings towards martyrdom and against Israel.[9]

It is through this systematic, determined effort that the infamous terrorist group ensures the continuation of their own war efforts. Children can be used to bolster their army and kill if needed[10]. If successful in a military endeavour, these kids are then encouraged and hailed as heroes, further cementing in their minds that their behaviour was/is correct[11]. Even when building dangerous tunnels to cross the border of Gaza with Israel, children are used as builders.[12]

Whilst these practices were several times noted during Haniyeh’s tenure as de facto and de jure leader of the group, there is no sign that ensures they have all summarily stopped and been reversed under Sinwar’s rule. As explained above, the scars left on rescued child soldiers can remain for a long time after they leave their military service. More so, they are ruthlessly effective in promoting warmongering and belligerence. Thus, they make sure that the next generation will perpetuate conflict and that a polarizing mentality is the norm in an already precarious society.

As a matter of fact, the tendency is that the militarization of children will be increased. From 2013 onwards, Hamas has purportedly included military training in the Gazan high school curricula[13]. Moreover, the increasingly hostile summer camps – such as the “Pioneers of Liberation”[14] camps – ensure that this military education is year-round, as is the spread of violence towards their “Zionist Enemy”. In fact, Abu Muhammad, responsible for the recruitment unit of the camps was recorded stating that the goal of the camps was to provide educational and military activities to train the coming generations to fight the [Israeli] “occupation”[15]. He then continued, stating the generation in front of him was “determined to put an end to the Israeli entity”.[16]

A very important question is then to be asked – what can we do? Any individual effort is unlikely to succeed in the face of such atrocities. As such, it is highly recommended that we take a look at successful preventive programs[17] and reintegration programs[18]. Only through this can the Children of today, not become the Soldiers of tomorrow.


[1] Nachtigal, T. (2019). Responsible Education: Responsibility under International Law for Indoctrination to Hatred and Violence in Education Systems. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. [online] Available at: //jtl.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/09/Nachtigal_CJTL-57-600.pdf (Accessed 23 Sep. 2019].

[2] Information retrieved from //childsoldiersworldindex.org/hostilities (Accessed 21 Sep. 2019)

[3] Retrieved from //childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/the-lords-resistance-army-and-children/ (Accessed 21 Sep. 2019)

[4] Retrieved from //www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/kidnapped-as-children-they-escaped-from-konys-lra-to-be-reunited-with-their-families-in-uganda/2018/08/10/625e5b12-8f67-11e8-ae59-01880eac5f1d_story.html (Accessed 21 Sep. 2019)

[5] Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, Educating for Hatred and Violence Against Israel in a Performance Held in a Kindergarten Sponsored by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, (December 31, 2017); available at //www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/educating-for-hatred-and-violence-against-israel-in-aperformance-held-in-a-kindergarten-sponsored-by-the-palestinian-islamic-jihad-pij/ (Accessed 22 Sep. 2019)

[6] Groiss, A. and Shaked, R. (2017). Schoolbooks of the Palestinian Authority (PA): The Attitude to the Jews, to Israel and to Peace. [online] Center for Near East Policy Research Available at: //israelbehindthenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Schoolbooks-PalestinianAuthority2017.pdf  [Accessed 23 Sep. 19].

[7] P. 62 ff. (n6)

[8] ITV News, Inside the Hamas Summer Training Camp for Gaza Teens, (added on July 27, 2016); video available at: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD2FezhJgqA ; 4 Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Incitement to Terrorism and Hatred, (June 8, 2017); //www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/21218/

[9] Hamas’s new way of poisoning the minds of Palestinian Children, Gatestone Institute, 1 April 2016. //www.gatestoneinstitute.org/7804/palestinian-children-torture (Accessed 23 Sep. 19)

[10] Riley Clafton, At Summer Camp, Hamas Raises the Next Generation of Killers, The Tower (August 2016); available at: //www.thetower.org/article/at-summer-camp-hamas-raises-the-next-generation-of-killers/ (Accessed 23 Sep. 19)

[11] IDF Website, The Status of Children in Gaza; //www.idf.il/en/minisites/facts-and-figures/hamas/thestatus-of-children-in-gaza/  (Accessed 23. Sep 19).

[12] Lea Spyer, How Child Labor in the Terror Tunnels is Killing Palestinian Children, (July 27, 2014); available at: //www.breakingisraelnews.com/18992/child-labor-terror-tunnels-killing-palestinian-children/; Myer Freimann, Hamas Killed 160 Palestinian Children to Build Tunnels, (July 25, 2014); available at: //www.tabletmag.com/scroll/180400/hamas-killed-160-palestinian-children-to-build-terror-tunnels

[13] Retrieved from //www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/20511/

[14] Summer Camps in the Gaza Strip: A tool for indoctrinating the younger generation with radical ideologies and training them to become future operatives in the terrorist organizations, especially Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (14 July 2019). The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. Available at: //www.terrorism-info.org.il/app/uploads/2019/07/E_156_19.pdf [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].

[15] Page 8 (n15)

[16] Ibid.

[17] As the “Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative”  (//www.childsoldiers.org)

[18] As “The Save Children Fund” (//www.savethechildren.net)

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