ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander-in-Chief Mazlum Abdi released a military order on Wednesday completely banning child recruitment and claiming to take sufficient measures to prevent future recruitment of children.
The order includes a stated commitment to international conventions that protect children from conflict.
The order signed by the SDF commander says that “children are strictly prohibited from joining SDF ranks and it is strictly prohibited to recruit them for the SDF," citing the UN Convention on the Right of Children that defines children as "a human being below the age of 18 years."
The order follows after a report by the US-based Human Rights Watch published in early August, accusing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leading component of the SDF military alliance in northeast Syria, of recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice.
After the report, the SDF first claimed in a statement that any such violations were not part of official policy, but said that they would "investigate these violations in coordination with the self-administration in northern Syria to overcome these violations and demobilize the children in question, and punish violators under the laws and regulations to which our forces are committed."
“Every member of the SDF under the age of 18 years (if found) must be transferred directly to the concerned civil authorities (the Authority for Education) in the northern Syria administration,” the order says.
Moreover, the military commands must appoint an ombudsman to receive complaints and reports of any violation of the implementation of recruiting children, the order says.
The order also calls for the suspensions of minors who receive salaries.
Furthermore, it says that military police and the SDF’s Military Discipline Department must pursue officers and commanders who do not comply with the order and take punitive measures against those in non-compliance.
The order was also forwarded to UN institutions and SDF military commanders and institutions and the administrations of northern and eastern Syria.
The SDF reiterated that their forces are committed to the protocols issued by the United Nations or humanitarian organizations on the laws of protection of children in wars.
“The document signed between us [SDF] and the Geneva Call clearly states that we have non-combatant persons under the age of 18 who do not take part in hostilities,” the SDF statement read.
Geneva Call, which describes itself as “a neutral and impartial non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting respect by Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs) for international humanitarian norms in armed conflict and other situations of violence,” praised the decision by the SDF Military Leadership.
“Geneva Call has been raising awareness through conducting training sessions for the SDF commanders about the protection of children, including the use and recruitment since last year,” Head of Near and Middle East Region for Geneva Call Mehmet Balci told Kurdistan 24.
In June 2018, Geneva Call welcomed new measures by the YPG, YPJ, and the self-administration to stop violations of the Deed of Commitment to protect children in conflict, signed with Geneva Call in 2014.
“Geneva Call definitely welcomes this military order since it will also bring YPG/YPJ [Women’s Protection Units] to put an end the child use and recruitment,” he added, “as it was also stated by letters a few weeks ago in response to Geneva Call’s monitoring report, as follow up of his humanitarian engagement.”
Editing by John J. Catherine