ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a military order over the weekend to all commanders in Syria’s northeast to end the recruitment of males and females under 18.
The SDF and the Self Administration of North East Syria (SANES) signed a Joint Action Plan with the United Nations on June 29 in Geneva, at Palais des Nations to prevent child recruitment.
The new military order is based on an older military order from September 2018 and is part of the latest SDF-UN action plan.
As a result, the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) and YPG (People’s Protection Units) have been moved from the UN’s List A (actor not taking action in the reporting period) to List B (actor taking some action, including engaging with the UN on child protection).
UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the SDF action plan last week during his presentation, in which he announced the new annual UN report on children and armed conflict.
“I urge SDF to expedite its implementation, notably the screening of all children within their ranks, including their swift handover to civilian authorities,” Guterres said.
He also emphasized the need to implement “awareness-raising activities” and establish “a public complaint procedure to report the recruitment and use of children.”
According to the new order, the UN action plan’s decisions are released to all military offices and academies.
Moreover, offices were activated where families whose children the SDF had recruited can make complaints.
The UN report notes that the YPG/YPJ recruited 313 children.
However, other Syrian opposition factions recruited 424 underage fighters combined; this included the HTS (187), FSA (170), Ahrar al-Sham (34), Army of Islam (17), and Nur al-Din al-Zanki (16). The so-called Islamic State recruited 30 underage fighters, and the Syrian government forces recruited 10. Unidentified armed elements recruited 29.
SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told Kurdistan 24 that they had been working to resolve the problem for a while. “We acknowledge such cases, that’s why we [introduced the] order of the General Command of the SDF.”
The SDF has significantly grown since it was established in October 2015, becoming the second-largest armed forces after the Syrian army, with an estimated 80,000 troops.
Kino underlined that in the past, there was not “enough discipline within the military forces due to ongoing military operations against ISIS.” He added that some commanders recruited children “without our knowledge.”
However, the SDF is now taking active steps to end this problem and is committed to the Geneva conventions and international law now that the Islamic State has been territorially defeated.
The SDF official said children under 18 were often trained in military academies, but not used for combat.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany