Child Protection Office in northeast Syria returns two underage soldiers to their families

The SDF has previously signed an action plan with the UN to prevent child recruitment. (Photo: Archive)
The SDF has previously signed an action plan with the UN to prevent child recruitment. (Photo: Archive)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Thursday reported that the Child Protection Office in the northern Syrian city of Hasakah has handed two minors back to their families after they joined the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

On Dec. 16, SOHR said that the Child Protection Office in Kobani handed over two teenage girls in coordination with the local Kobani Military Council to their family after they also joined the SDF. Three days earlier, the office in Deir al-Zor handed a child back to his family after being recruited by the SDF several months earlier.

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

Read More: New mechanism allows northeast Syrians to report child recruitment by armed forces

The UN and SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi signed an action plan in June in Switzerland to restrict the practice.

Read More: UN, SDF sign agreement to prevent enrolment of children

The agreement dictates that the SDF end its recruitment of minors, “to identify and separate boys and girls currently within its ranks, and to put in place preventative, protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment and use,” a statement on the UN’s website read.

Mehmet Balci, the co-founder of the NGO Fight for Humanity (FFH), told Kurdistan 24 that one has to accept that there has been a lot of progress at multiple levels since the action plan was signed.

Balci’s NGO Fight for Humanity has held seven dissemination sessions for a total of 400 SDF and Asayish members to educate them on the plan since it was put into effect.

“The establishment of such an office or mechanism by the AANES is very important support to the implementation of the Action Plan,” Balci added.

“More importantly, there is a need to enhance SDF’s age assessment mechanism and its coordination with the Child Protection Offices in the cantons at the same raise it is also equally important to raise awareness among its officers in charges of SDF’s Centers spreads across the NES (Northeast Syria),” he concluded.

A UN report released in June about child recruitment in northeast Syria in 2019 verified the enrolment of 820 children. 283 of the cases were attributed to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). Moreover, other unspecified SDF components recruited 23 underage children, plus 22 more by the Internal Security Forces.

Although these child recruitment cases are often attributed to the SDF, other rebel groups appear to have recruited far more.

The UN reported numbers on other groups: Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (245 cases), Free Syrian Army (191), Ahrar al-Sham (26), other unidentified armed groups (11), Nur al-Din al-Zanki (3), and the Islamic State (1).

There were also ten additional cases among Syrian government forces and five more in pro-government militia groups, as well as recent claims that the Kurdish Tevgera Ciwanên Şoreşger (Revolutionary Youth Movement) has recruited underage children. However, the group denied the claim in an interview with Al-Monitor.

“We are not a military organization that enables us to recruit children. We totally deny it,” Nasser Afrin, a member of the group said.

The Child Protection Office said in a Dec. 14 statement that, since its establishment, it has received nearly 86 complaints. A large number of them were dismissed, while others it said were dealt with legally.

The office said it's developing a strategy to protect children in northeast Syria by working toward the passage of a child protection law in northeast Syria. The aim of the law would be to protect minors from physical and sexual exploitation, including as soldiers and members of the labor force.

Editing by John J. Catherine