About 1,500 children are held in detention in Iraq and the country’s Kurdish-run areas for alleged links to Islamic State, Human Rights Watch says.
In a report, it says the suspects are often arbitrarily arrested and tortured to force confessions.
HRW urges the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to amend anti-terror laws to end such detentions, saying they violate international law.
Iraq and the Kurdish authorities have so far made no comment.
The Kurdish government has previously rejected an HWR report which alleged that children were being tortured to confess to IS links.
In January, an official said the local authorities’ policy was to “rehabilitate” such children; torture was prohibited; and children were afforded the same rights as other prisoners.
What did the HRW report say?
The 53-page report says that at the end of 2018 the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities were holding about 1,500 children for alleged IS links.
At least 185 foreign children have been convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to jail terms, HRW is quotes the Iraqi government as saying.
The HRW document alleges that the local authorities:
Often arrest and prosecute children with any perceived connection to IS
Use torture to coerce confessions and
Sentence suspects in hasty and unfair trials
“This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children,” said Joe Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW.
What cases does HRW cite?
Last November, the report says, HRW interviewed 29 children held for alleged IS affiliation.
It says that 19 of the suspects reported that they had been tortured, including beatings with plastic pipes, electric cables or rods.
One of the children, a 17-year-old boy in Iraqi detention, said he was repeatedly suspended by his wrists for 10 minutes at a time, according to the report.
It also points out that most of those interviewed said they had joined IS because of economic need, peer or family pressure.
Some cited family problems or a desire to gain social status.
HRW says that those Iraqi children who have been released are afraid to return home because of the stigma of IS membership and a threat of revenge attacks.
The human rights group stresses that international law recognises children recruited by armed groups primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.