Department to combat underage military recruitment to open in Syria’s Kurdish-led north east

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – Children become part of an armed force or group for various reasons. Some are abducted, threatened, coerced or manipulated by armed actors. Others are driven by poverty, compelled to generate income for their families. Still others associate themselves for survival or to protect their communities, according to UNICEF. Girls in particular may be driven to join armed groups to escape forced or arranged marriages.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main fighting force defending the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES) signed a joint action plan with the UN in July 2019 regarding banning child recruitment and stating that no one under the age of 18 would be eligible for SDF membership.

Abdulhamed al-Mahbash, co-chair of the Executive Council of the AANES, said on Wednesday that a Child Protection Department would start its work in the upcoming days.

“Human rights specialists will supervise the work of the Department,” al-Mahbash added.

On August 30, the AANES established the Department, which is concerned with potential underage recruitment in SDF ranks.

The Department consists of nine offices which receive complaints from the children’s families and human rights organizations, and groups concerned with children and childhood, regarding potential child recruitment in the SDF, al-Mahbash added in an exclusive statement to North Press.

Complaints are handed over through the defense department to the SDF, where they check them and make sure of their authenticity, al-Mahbash stated.

Other offices will be established in Qamishli, Hasakah, Deir ez-Zor, Tel Abyad, Kobani, Manbij, the southern Aleppo countryside, Raqqa, and Tabqa, he further explained.

The SDF has already returned more than 30 underage boys in addition to about 51 girls to their families, according to the agreement, al-Mahbash said.

Both Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention ban the recruitment of children under the age of 15, as does the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Furthermore, the Convention’s Optional Protocol prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting or using children under the age of 18 in direct hostilities.

“We as the SDF and Autonomous Administration are committed to the agreement, but the Turkish occupation of Administration-held areas including Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, curbed the implementation of the terms of the agreement,” he added.