Turkish-backed groups recruit 40 child soldiers: STJ report
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Since the beginning of this year, factions affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) have recruited at least 40 children and subjected them to military training alongside new adult recruits, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) said in a report on Wednesday.
"Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) monitored and verified that those factions falsely registered the children’s ages as 18 or more in their records," the report said.
STJ obtained 17 documents containing false information about children recruited by Harakat al-Tahrir wa-l-Binaa/Liberation and Construction Movement (LCM).
"Not only the faction was to blame for altering the children’s information; the parents of some of the recruited children submitted fake identity documents they obtained from civil registries established by Turkey in the areas under its influence," the STJ said.
The Syrians for Truth and Justice said that the SNA’s recruitment of children is not a new phenomenon; however, it has surged in 2022.
"This violation persists despite the SIG’s Ministry of Defense’s statement, dated 19 May 2020, which prohibited forced and voluntary recruitment of children under the age of 18 in the ranks of the SNA and ordered the immediate demobilization of those already affiliated. However, according to STJ’s monitoring, this has not been implemented on the ground."
Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) also said documented the recruitment of at least 29 male and female teenagers in the areas held by the Autonomous Administration (AANES) in northeast Syria, over the first half of 2022.
The United Nations signed an action plan with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2019 to restrict the recruitment of children under the age of 18 in the armed forces. However, there are still reports of recruitment in northeast Syria.
Furthermore, between 2020 and 2021, STJ reported several incidents of child soldier use in internal and external conflicts, including in Libya by Turkish-backed groups.
A report by the United Nations from 23 June 2022 verified the recruitment and use of 1,296 children (1,258 boys, 38 girls) by the Syrian rebel groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian government-aligned forces.
Although the SDF's recruitment of minors gets a lot of attention, Turkish-backed factions and Syrian opposition groups have often recruited more children than the SDF or SDF-aligned factions.
Bassam al-Ahmad, executive director for the Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), told Kurdistan 24 told that many Syrian opposition news websites report about child recruitment by the SDF, but ignore the recruitment of minors by Syrian rebel factions.
"This politicization will lead to people to cover the SDF more than other organization. However, this doesn't mean there is no child recruitment in SDF areas."
The Syrian National Army (SNA) alone recruited 569 children, the UN report, covering the period from January to December 2021, said.
Furthermore, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) (221 children) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) (220 children) and other components of SDF (1 child) recruited minors.
Moreover, other groups that recruited children were the anti-government rebel groups Faylaq al-Sham (103 children), Hamzah Division (48 children), Ahrar al-Sham (41 children), Suqur al-Sham (38 children), Jabhah al-Sharqiyah (23 children), Sultan Murad Brigade (19 children), Jabhah al-Shamiyah (16 children), Jabhah al-Islamiyah (16 children), Jaysh al-Nusrah (8 children), Jaysh al-Sharqiyah (7 children), Samarqand Brigade (5 children), Dir‘ al-Furat (4 children), Hizb al-Turkmani (2 children), Mu‘tasim Brigade (2 children), Ahrar al-Sharqiyah (1 children), Jaysh al-Sunnah (1 children), unidentified factions (235 children) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (380 children).
Moreover, also Syrian government forces and pro-government forces recruited children (46 children).
Also the UN said pro-government militias recruited underage children, including the National Defence Forces (NDF) (35 children); the Internal Security Forces under the authority of the self-administration in northern and eastern Syria (24 children) (the Internal Security Forces); the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (10 children); Nur al-Din al-Zanki (5 children); Afrin Liberation Forces (2 children); and unidentified perpetrators (4 children).
"Cases were verified mainly in Idlib (591 children) and Aleppo (401 children). Most of the children (1,285 children) were used in combat. In addition, the recruitment and use of 5 children (4 boys, 1 girl) by YPG/YPJ that occurred prior to 2021 were verified in 2021," the report said.
A new report by the New Lines Institute also mentions how SNA commanders turn a blind eye to "other abuses such as child recruitment, small-scale looting, and robberies."