Pro-PYD youth group continues to recruit minors: rights group

"The child recruits included nine boys and eight girls."
Kurds demonstrate outside UN offices in northeastern Syria against the recruitment of teenage girls into Kurdish militias (Photo: Delil souleiman/AFP)
Kurds demonstrate outside UN offices in northeastern Syria against the recruitment of teenage girls into Kurdish militias (Photo: Delil souleiman/AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Revolutionary Youth Movement recruited 17 minors in northeastern Syria and Aleppo's northern countryside in October, November, and December 2021, the human rights organization Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) revealed in a report published on Thursday.

"The child recruits included nine boys and eight girls. Only one child was returned safely home, while the fate of the remaining 16 continues to be unknown," the report said.

STJ said that the Tevgera Ciwanên Şoreşger (Revolutionary Youth Movement) was "established in 2011 and despite the founders' efforts to promote the group as an independent entity, it has been administratively affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD)."

The STJ said that although the youth group supposedly organizes youth-aimed cultural, artistic, sport, and social events, "the RY has been associated with a wide range of (human rights) violations, including the recruitment of child soldiers."

The group has in the past been accused by the Kurdish National Council of attacks on their offices. Moreover, according to the EU aid organization ECHO, the PYD-affiliated youth group also clashed with the "Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces on 15 December", which led to the Faysh Khabur-Semalka border crossing closure until further notice.

Read More: EU aid organization expresses worries over aid to northern Syria

The STJ said the child recruitment did not go unnoticed in the local community. 

"In response to the RY violations, the parents of the child recruits organized a protest (in November), demanding that the RY demobilize their children and return them home," it said. 

Kurdish protesters in Qamishlo demonstrated outside UN offices on Nov. 29 against what they say is the continued recruitment of teenage girls for combat.

Read More: Syria Kurds protest recruitment of teenage girls for combat

In cooperation with the SDF, the Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) established the Office of Child Protection In Armed Conflicts in August 2020 after multiple claims of the recruitment of minors into its armed ranks.

The UN and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi also signed an action plan in June 2020 in Switzerland to restrict the practice.

A United Nations report from May 2020 said that the recruitment of children by the SDF in northeast Syria had been significantly reduced since the force signed this plan with the UN two years ago.

Read More: Child recruitment by SDF down significantly since 2019, UN says

However, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) war monitor has also accused the militant Kurdish Tevgera Ciwanên Şoreşger (Revolutionary Youth Movement) of continuing to recruit underage children.

The STJ called on the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria and the SDF to "demonstrate transparency and a full commitment to the agreements they signed, either with Geneva Call, in July 2014, or with the UN, in late June 2019, to prevent the recruitment and use of children in military operations."

It also called for the immediate demobilization of "child soldiers and reunite them with their families and put those at risk of home violence in the care of the responsible civilian authorities."

It advocates punitive measures against the Revolutionary Youth Group and the Young Women's Union for child recruitment and dissolving groups and organizations involved in this activity.

The STJ published a report on June 2, 2021, revealing that 50 child soldiers were demobilized between May 2020 and late March 2021, while 19 others continued to be recruited by entities affiliated with the Administration.

"Recruiters insisted on continuing child recruitments, ignoring the demands of the children's parents," the report said. "All families interviewed by STJ confirmed that they filed complaints to the Office for the Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts, hoping to get their children back. However, at the time of the interviews, none of the parents had been offered favorable answers."