isis special forces
New Islamic State group recruits are seen in a classroom for their so-called graduation ceremony after having completed the special forces training program March 27, 2015. Media Office Wilayat Khayr

In its recruitment of young people, the Islamic State group offers financial rewards as incentives, with many parents agreeing to let their children join it because they can’t support them and need the cash. But the main reason young people join the militant group formerly known as ISIS is to seek meaning in their lives, according to David L. Phillips, once a senior adviser on Iraq to the U.S. State Department and now the director of the program on peace-building and rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

Phillips told NBC News the issue “revolves around self-worth. Radicalized youth join ISIS not because they’re looking for a payout but because they’re seeking meaning in their lives.” He said, “They didn’t receive education or opportunity where they came from -- they feel becoming a jihadi offers them an opportunity that didn’t exist back in the slums or villages from which they originate.”

Because of poor economic conditions and a lack of employment options, however, many families that have fled Syria are letting their children join the Islamic State group specifically for the money. According to a United Nations report published last year, the militant group and other armed organizations are “actively recruiting children as young as 13 as fighters.”

Although this practice is considered a war crime, a lot of families are desperate and see the Islamic State group as offering their only option.

“A lot of families send their children to ISIS as if they send them to school, especially if they’re not working,” Arabic teacher Anwar, 30, told NBC News. “At least the parents don’t have to feed and clothe them. These people need money and food, and ISIS are now the only one who can offer that.”

The U.N. report claimed most children associated with the Islamic State group are sons or relatives of people who are already members or are orphans. And it contended the militant group recruits them to use in propaganda, posting photographs of them in its uniforms or with its flag.