Justice & Accountability

At Least 156 Children Still Conscripted by Syrian Democratic Forces

19 Children Kidnapped and Conscripted Since November in Worst Conscription Campaign Targeting Children Since the Beginning of 2021

December 18, 2021

At Least 156 Children Still Conscripted by Syrian Democratic Forces

Source: he Syrian Network for Human Rights

Press release:  Link below to download full report 

Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that at least 156 children are still conscripted by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the 537 cases of conscription carried out by the SDF since its establishment, further noting that 19 children have been kidnapped and conscripted since November, in the worst conscription campaign targeting children since the beginning of 2021.

The 15-page report notes that since the first months of the Syrian Democratic Forces’ establishment, the SDF has forcibly conscripted children; this child conscription has gradually expanded in parallel with the SDF strengthening its security and military grip over the areas under its control in northeastern Syria, with the group routinely either voluntarily or forcibly conscripting children, as part of its efforts to recruit or coerce children into joining its armed forces, which involve attempts to persuade and encourage children and offering them inducements, with schools controlled by the Self-Management Authority often participating in and actively supporting child conscription. In parallel with these various efforts, conscription is also carried out by kidnapping children, from schools, streets or neighborhoods.
As the report notes, Syrian Democratic Forces have established training camps for the children it’s conscripted in areas far from their areas of origin, generally preventing children from communicating with their families. Many families of these kidnapped and conscripted children have been subjected to threats and intimidation to prevent them from reporting their children’s conscription to international bodies or human rights organizations. The children’s families are also prevented from visiting their children in the SDF’s training camps, and subjected to verbal humiliation and removal if they attempt to visit them. The report adds that all this aims to isolate the children from their families and the outside world until the end of their training to ensure the children are fully indoctrinated into unquestioning acceptance of the hardline communist philosophy and ideological views of the PKK, the group of which the PYD is an affiliate.

The report documents a marked increase in child conscription levels in the past month of November 2021, and records the largest child conscription campaign by the SDF since the beginning of 2021, noting that the SDF is among the worst parties to the conflict in terms of child conscription, according to the UN Secretary-General’s reports on Children and Armed Conflict.

The report documents at least 537 cases of child recruitment carried out by the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria since the SDF’s establishment – since the establishment of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s Self-Management forces – in January 2014 up to December 15, 2021; to date, at least 156 children are still conscripted by the SDF, divided between 102 males and 54 females. Among the child conscription cases, the report documents the deaths of at least 29 of the children conscripted by the SDF in combat operations.
The report provides a map showing the distribution of the 537 cases of child conscription according to the governorate in which the conscription incident took place, which shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest number of incidents. The report also provides a chart for the distribution of this record by years.

Since the beginning of November 2021 up until December 15, 2021, the report records the kidnapping for conscription of at least 19 children, distributed between nine male and 10 female children; 11 of these kidnappings took place in Hasaka governorate and eight in Aleppo governorate. As the report documents, only three of these conscripted children were demobilized, while 16 are still conscripted.
The report adds that Syrian Democratic Forces have not yet taken any genuine concrete measures to demobilize and compensate child conscripts, to return them to their families, or to hold the perpetrators of kidnappings and conscription accountable and launch investigations into them.
The report notes that many families of children conscripted in Syrian Democratic Forces camps have protested, holding demonstrations and anti-Syrian Democratic Forces sit-ins, calling for their children to be returned from the SDF’s military centers. The report documents that a number of the families of conscripted children who participated in the demonstrations received threats and were attacked by groups affiliated with Syrian Democratic Forces, which also warned them not to participate in such demonstrations again.

The report stresses that Syrian Democratic Forces have violated all international laws related to the issue of child recruitment, with this report and others proving that the Syrian Democratic Forces’ gangs of kidnappers have gained extensive experience in this field, and that these kidnappings are carried out in a planned and deliberate manner, and are based on intelligence information, because the kidnappers are part of the controlling force, and have background data and information about the victims, their habits, and their families, which facilitates the victims’ entrapment by the kidnapping gangs.

The report recommends that the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces should put pressure on SDF to stop forced conscriptions, and to respect the rules of international humanitarian law and principles of international human rights law in the areas they control, should support the process of establishing a genuine local administration in the northeastern region of Syria, in which all the inhabitants of the region may participate without discrimination on the basis of race and nationality and without the intervention of the de facto authorities in order to achieve stability and justice, and should support the building and establishment of an independent judiciary that prohibits military parties from carrying out forced conscriptions.
The report demands that Syrian Democratic Forces stop all forms of child conscriptions, disclose the fate of all forcibly disappeared children, and allow their families to visit and communicate with them, in preparation for releasing them.
The report additionally provides a number of other recommendations.

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