QAMISHLO (Kurdistan 24) – The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Monday denied allegations of child recruitment among its ranks.
Human Rights Watch, a US-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said earlier this week that the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leading component of the SDF military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice.
The SDF said in an online statement that the observations in the HRW report are only individual violations and do not reflect the group’s system.
“The competent authorities in our forces will 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,” the SDF statement read.
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 YPG, which form the main part of our forces, have signed the Geneva Call Protocol on non-state armed forces,” the statement added.
Additionally, the SDF explained that the Geneva Call organization is continously touring areas where the SDF troops are and observing their training.
The Kurdish-led forces confirmed they are in contact with UN-related organizations, including UNICEF, to discuss mechanisms to overcome the violations mentioned in the HRW report.
CHILDREN FLEEING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
“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.
“Most of those children joined our forces as a result of hard circumstances, including fleeing from harsh familial or social circumstances and they resorted to our forces seeking protection,” it continued.
The SDF clarified that those underage children are stationed in special centers away from military positions or fronts and receive education according to a civilian curriculum.
However, the HRW said even if children are fleeing domestic violence or poverty, the YPG is not protecting them by recruiting them into their forces.
“If they are serious about helping these children, they should live up to their pledge and provide alternatives to ensure that the children don’t lose their future or their lives,” HRW said.
International law prohibits non-state armed factions from recruiting anyone under the age of 18, and enlisting children under 15 is a war crime.
HRW spoke to eight families in three displacement camps in northeastern Syria who said Kurdish security forces had encouraged their children to enlist.
It is worth mentioning that Kurdish authorities enforce military conscription for those above 18 years of age in areas under their control.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany