Home Campaigns Northeastern Syria: 50 Child Soldiers Demobilized, 19 Others Still Commissioned

Northeastern Syria: 50 Child Soldiers Demobilized, 19 Others Still Commissioned


This report covers the recruitment and demobilization of child soldiers by military groups and security services affiliated with the Autonomous Administration between May 2020 and late March 2021 

by z.ujayli
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Recommendations

Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) recommends the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF):

  1. To demonstrate transparency and full commitment to the agreements signed, either with Geneva Call, in July 2014, or with the UN, in late June 2019, to prevent the recruitment and use of children in military operations.
  2. To immediately demobilize child soldiers and reunite them with their families and put those at risk of home violence in the care of responsible civilian authorities.
  3. To monitor the functioning of the Office for the Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts in receiving complaints related to child recruitment and handling them, and to take punitive measures against those found indulged in child recruitment, including the Revolutionary Youth’ Union (RYU) and Young Women’s Union (YWU).
  4. To disband groups and organizations that carry out child recruitments, notably the Revolutionary Youths Union (RYU) and Young Women’s Union (YWU), and to hold all parties involved in such activities accountable, whether they are individuals or entities.

Background 

It has been over six years since the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ)— core military components of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—  signed the 2014 Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment[1] protecting children in armed conflict and preventing their recruitment. Even though the enlistments of child soldiers decreased in northeastern Syria compared to previous years, armed units continue to enlist male and female minors, barely aged 16.

On 29 June 2019, the SDF again pledged to stop child recruitment by signing an Action Plan with the United Nations (UN) to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18.[2] The plan was signed by SDF Force Commander, General Mazloum Abdi— on behalf of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria which ratified the plan— and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Under the plan,[3] the SDF committed to end this practice against children and put in place new disciplinary measures against armed forces that fail to adhere to signed terms.

On 30 August 2020, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced they had established the Office for the Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts (hereinafter Children Protection Office),[4] with branch offices in the cities of Qamishli/Qamishlo, al-Hasakah, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Kobanî (Ayn al-Arab), Tell Abyad, al-Shahba, Tabqa, and Manbij. The main office and its branches receive and process complaints regarding child recruitment by the SDF or the Internal Security Forces (Asayish), or other violations of children’s rights. These offices were operated in early October 2020.

Despite the two binding agreements, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) documented that the Revolutionary Youth’s Union (RYU)[5] recruited at least 19 male and female minors, from early May 2020 till the end of the year. Additionally, STJ recorded the demobilization of four female and three male recruits after parents filed complaints to the SDF.

Over the first quarter of 2021, STJ verified that the RYU recruited an additional seven male and female minors, who were still commissioned at the time of writing on 16 April 2021.

Field researchers with STJ detected a slight decrease in the number of enlistments compared to previous year records. Furthermore, STJ verified that between October 2020—the month when children protection offices were first operated—and late March 2021, the SDF and its affiliated military units demobilized at least 43 male and female minors and reunified them with their families through these offices. The forces discharged 17 male and female child soldiers over the last quarter of 2020, and 26 over the first quarter of 2021, among them 32 in al-Hasakah, four in Kobanî, four in Qamishli/Qamishlo, two in Manbij, and one in Deir ez-Zor.

On 23 November 2021, STJ filed a complaint to the Children Protection Office regarding 17 cases of child recruitment.[6] STJ demanded that the Autonomous Administration monitor the operation of the office and take the harshest punitive measures against commanders and military groups that refuse to abide by the ban on child enlistments, including the RYU and the Young Women’s Union (YWU).[7]

The UN Secretary General’s April 2021 report on children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic reported that the SDF and its components, as well as “affiliated internal security forces under the authority of the self-administration in northern and eastern Syria”, were responsible for 35% of the 1,423 verified cases of child recruitments in northeastern Syria from 2018 to the first half of 2020.[8] 73% of the recruitment cases were attributed to other actors in northwestern Syria (Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo).

Methodology

For the purposes of this extensive report, STJ conducted 26 interviews, mostly with parents and relatives of children recruited for military use in northeastern Syria, in addition to two activists from Raqqa and Qamishli/Qamishlo. STJ carried out these interviews between May 2020 and late March 2021, consulted numerous open sources, crosschecked information, and obtained additional evidence corroborating the cases reported herein.

  1. RYU-Perpetrated Child Recruitments

The majority of interviewed families told STJ that the RYU (known as Ciwanên Şoreşger in Kurdish) is the key perpetrator of child enlistments in northeastern Syria.

Additionally, a field researcher with STJ recounted that the RYU has been recruiting children for years in northeastern Syria. The researcher added that the group quit many of their activities, such as holding social and intellectual events, in late 2020 and ramped up enlistment activities instead. Increased recruitment followed calls by the Force Commander of the SDF, General Mazloum Abdi, for all the Kurdish actors in the region to unite.

The RYU uses a practiced child recruitment method. RYU teenage members approach target children in the school or the street, establish friendships with them, and then invite them to participate in intellectual and educational lectures and courses organized by the RYU in their affiliated academic centers, where they are ultimately lured into joining military groups.

STJ documented the recruitment of at least seven children over the first quarter of 2021 – from early January to late March – mostly carried out by the RYU. These children were still commissioned when this report was being compiled on 16 April 2021.

In early January, the RYU recruited female minor N. Shukri, 14, into the ranks of the YPJ in the city of Kobanî. Shukri is originally from Jarikh Abdi village, in the countryside of Tell Abyad city, but she fled the village with her family to Darb Tahtani village in the countryside of Kobanî during the Turkish military offensive into northeastern Syria in October 2019.

A family member told STJ that the girl’s parents searched for her in both RYU and SDF centers and reported her missing to the Children Protection Office and the Asayish forces in Kobanî. They presented authorities with identity documents proving that their daughter was born in 2007— namely, that she was a minor and ineligible for enlistment with armed groups. However, the parents failed to obtain any information about their daughter’s fate.

Image 1- N. Shukri, 14. The photo was obtained on 15 February 2021. Credit: The girl’s family.

In February 2021, a field researcher with STJ documented the recruitment of at least six children. At the beginning of the month, male minor A. Rami, 16, was recruited in Karda village, west of Kobanî. The boy’s mother told STJ that her son was recruited by an official of the Kobanî-based Peoples Union and Support Foundation— affiliated with the Autonomous Administration. The mother added that the official refused to return her son even though she provided him with identity documents proving that he still was a minor. Additionally, the mother told STJ that she went to the foundation and demanded that she be allowed to take her son home, but officials there refused to do that and kicked her out.

The mother posted a video on social networking sites condemning the recruitment of her minor son and demanding that the SDF command interfere and bring him back home.

Image 2- The boy A. Rami and an identity document proving he was born in 2005— namely, that he is a minor and ineligible for recruitment. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The child’s family.

A week later, on 19 February 2021, the RYU recruited male minor M. Hassan, 17, in al-Hasakah and enrolled him in one of their training camps. Hassan’s family are originally from the city of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê, but they fled to al-Hasakah during the Turkish military offensive into northeastern Syria in October 2019.

A family member told STJ that they learned that the boy was transferred to one of the RYU’s camps in al-Hasakah province. He added that they failed to return him home even though they filed a complaint to the Children Protection Office and the Asayish forces.

Image 3- The boy M. Hassan, 17. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The boy’s family.

Image 4- Identity document proving that M. Hassan was born in 2004— namely, that he is a minor and ineligible for recruitment. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The boy’s family.

On 10 February 2021, a day after M. Hassan was recruited, the RYU recruited male minor Kh. Ali., 17, in Kobanî.

Commenting on her minor son’s recruitment, Khadra Hasso told STJ that her husband Kamal Ali was so saddened by his son’s enlistment that he had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. She added:

“Kh. is my third son to be recruited. I searched for him in all the SDF-affiliated centers in Kobanî. But they all denied having him.”

Image 5- Identity document proving that Kh. Ali was born in 2004—namely, that he is a minor and ineligible for recruitment. Credit: The boy’s family.

Once again in Kobanî city, the RYU recruited female minor S. Mahou, 16, a resident of the Jubnah village, west of the city, on 12 February 2021.After the girl’s parents visited SDF-affiliated military centers, they were finally told that she was at an RYU camp. However, the family could not take their daughter back home even though they provided authorities with identity documents proving she is a minor and ineligible for enlistment.

The family told STJ that they received a message two days after their daughter was recruited. The message said: “Your daughter joined the PKK forces, and you must be proud of her.” The family filed a complaint to the SDF and the Children Protection Office, but they failed to bring her home.

Image 6- The girl S. Mahou, 16. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The girl’s family.

A few days after S. Mahou was recruited, the RYU enlisted female minor A. Bahri, 13, in al-Hasakah city on 16 February 2021. The girl and her family are displaced from Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê.

The Bahri family is one of the Kurdish-Syrian stateless families, whose members are labeled as maktumeen (unregistered with the Civil Registration Department). They are originally from the city of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê, which they fled to al-Hasakah city during the Turkish military offensive into northeastern Syria in October 2019.

The girl’s mother, Widad Amin, 35, told STJ that she learned that her daughter was undergoing training in an RYU camp. The mother added:

“After searching for my daughter for two days, I received a phone call from a member of the Revolutionary Youth’s Union, who told me that my daughter is with them and is attending a training program. He said that I should not be worried about her, but he did not tell me where she was or when she would come back.”

The mother added that she failed to bring her daughter back home even though she filed complaints to the SDF and the Children Protection Office.

Image 7- A. Bahri, 13. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The girl’s mother Widad Amin.

Image 8- Identity document, proving that A. Bahri was born in 2008— namely, that she is a minor and ineligible for recruitment. The document was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The girl’s mother Widad Amin.

On the same day, 16 February 2021, male minor F. al-Hamdo, 15, left his home in Qamishli /Qamishlo and never returned.

Searching for their son, his family, displaced from Kafr Saghir in the countryside of Aleppo, learned that he was recruited by the RYU and transferred to one of their camps to undergo military training.

The family reported the situation to the Children Protection Office and the Asayish forces in Qamishli/Qamishlo city, but they failed to learn anything about their son’s fate.

Image 9 – The boy F. Al-Hamdo, 15. The photo was obtained on 1 March 2021. Credit: The boy’s family.

 

 

To read the full report as a PDF, follow this link.

 

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[1] “Syria: Kurdish armed forces demobilize 149 child soldiers,” Geneva Call, 7 July 2014, https://www.genevacall.org/syria-kurdish-armed-forces-demobilize-149-child-soldiers/ (last visited: 30 April 2021).

[2] “Syrian Democratic Forces Sign Action Plan to End and Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Children,” Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of Children and Armed Conflict, 1 July 2019, https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/2019/07/syrian-democratic-forces-sign-action-plan-to-end-and-prevent-the-recruitment-and-use-of-children/ (last visited: 30 April 2021).

[3] “Press Release regarding the Action Plan the SDF signed with the UN to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under 18,” SDF Press, 1 July 2019, https://sdf-press.com/?p=29078 (Last visited: 4 May 2021).

[4] “Foundation and operation of the Office for the Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts,” Official Facebook Page of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, 30 August 2020, https://www.facebook.com/952306884959249/posts/1406258492897417 (last visited: 6 May 2021).

[5] The Revolutionary Youth’s Union (RYU) was established in 2011. Despite the founders’ efforts to promote the RYU as an independent entity, it has been administratively affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The union consists of young men and women, mostly PYD minor advocates. The union is led by staffers politically affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The union supposedly organizes youth-aimed cultural, artistic, sport, and social events. However, the union is often associated with a wide range of violations, including recruitment of child soldiers. Opponents of the Autonomous Administration have accused the union of kidnapping, hitting, and threatening anti-PYD activists and for repeatedly setting fire to the offices of the Kurdish National Council (KNC).

[6] “A complaint to the Office for the Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts of the Autonomous Administration, Regarding the Recruitment of 17 Male and Female Minors,” STJ, 23 November 2020, https://stj-sy.org/en/a-complaint-to-the-office-for-the-protection-of-children-in-armed-conflicts-of-the-autonomous-administration-regarding-the-recruitment-of-17-male-and-female-minors/ (last visited: 5 May 2021).

[7] The Young Women’s Union (YWU)— the parallel all-women structure of the Revolutionary Youth’s Union— was established in 2016, during the first annual conference of the Young Women’s Union, which was held and concluded in Rmelan city on 20 February 2016. During the conference, the group changed their name into the Young Women’s Union in Rojava, seeking to organize women across northeastern Syria.

[8] “Children and armed conflict in the Syria Arab Republic: Report of the Secretary General S/2021/398,” The United Nations Security Council

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