A United Nations report stated that the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian wing, the YPG, has been recruiting children to fight among its ranks, adding that the organization has enlisted at least 400 children in the past two years.
In a report documenting violations toward children in Syria between July 2018 and June 2020, it was stated that the YPG continued to use children as fighters and store ammunition in schools. It pointed out the 236 attacks on schools and protected persons, of which 33 occurred in the second half of 2018, 154 in 2019 and 49 in the first half of 2020. During the incidents, members of staff were killed, maimed or arrested, and 133 children were killed or injured while at school.
While more than 400 children were used as fighters during the period, the YPG also carried out at least 4,700 rights violations toward children, including abduction and rape.
Within this period, more than 2,700 children lost their lives or became permanently disabled as a result of airstrikes, explosions or artillery bombardments. A total of 1,423 children, 117 of whom were girls, were used systematically by armed groups, while 1,388 children, 250 of whom were under the age of 15, were made to fight.
"The prevalence of child casualties remained high, with 585 in the second half of 2018, 1,460 in 2019 and 672 in the first half of 2020. At least 1,216 children who were killed or maimed were under 12 years of age," the report said.
The recruitment and use of large numbers of children was attributed to the YPG and its components, representing 35 per cent of all verified cases, the U.N. said.
International law prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting anyone under 18, and enlisting children under 15 is considered a war crime.
The YPG’s use of child soldiers has been repeatedly documented and criticized by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The YPG used 318 children among its ranks to fight, while its women's branch, the YPJ, used 99, the report added.
“In one example from September 2018, a 16-year-old girl disappeared from her school in Qamishli, Hassakeh, and joined the YPJ at its base in Antariyah, from where she was deployed to a military training camp in Karbawi for three weeks.”
Though the PKK/YPG initially signed a pledge with Geneva Call – a Swiss humanitarian organization that works to "protect civilians in armed conflict" – to stop the use of child soldiers in 2014, its use of child soldiers has only increased since then.
Previously, the U.S. Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General’s (DoD-OIG) Aug. 4 report last year on Command Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) noted that in 2019 the YPG "recruited children into their ranks from displacement camps in northeastern Syria." The report U.S. report stated that each year since 2014 the "Kurdish entities partnered with the U.S." made promises to end the use of child soldiers, but that each year the practice continues.
The U.S. has primarily partnered with the YPG in northern Syria in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group. Turkey strongly opposes the YPG's presence in northern Syria, which has been a major sticking point in strained Ankara-Washington relations. The U.S. has provided military training and thousands of truckloads of weaponry to the YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns.
Local people living in areas held by the YPG have long suffered from its atrocities, as the terrorist organization has a notorious record of human rights abuses, ranging from kidnappings, recruitment of child soldiers, torture, ethnic cleansing and forced displacement.
Since its foundation, the PKK has forcibly taken at least one child from families who do not "pay taxes" in support of the group. To fill its ranks, the PKK has continuously raided villages and kidnapped young adults from the ages of 15 to 20 through violent means. In addition to forced conscription, the PKK also conducts propaganda campaigns that mainly target university students. The terrorist group's approach has remained largely consistent, according to statements by captured or surrendered members of the organization.
The U.N. report said that verified cases confirmed that factors in the recruitment of children included financial incentives, revenge for the death of relatives, the affiliation of fathers, brothers and uncles, social status and community pressure, access to services and goods, the fear of arrest and detention by controlling or opposing belligerents as well as the urge to protect their communities.
The U.N. report further stated that al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has increased its number of child soldiers by 36% in northwestern Idlib, Aleppo and Hama between 2018 and 2020.
Boys as young as 10 years of age were recruited from 11 different districts in Idlib, Aleppo and Hama, highlighting the common practice across areas held by the group. Child recruitment by HTS accelerated significantly, from 61 cases in the second half of 2018 to 187 cases in the first half of 2020.
The report gave an example from May 2019 of two boys who were 16 and 17 at the time that joined HTS and served as guards at the Karamah camp in Harim, Idlib, after six weeks of training.
Armed groups also sent children to war-torn Libya to receive training. According to the report, children were promised 3,000 dollars and housing to go to Libya.
The U.N. also said that a total of 23 cases of child recruitment by regime forces and pro-regime militia were verified and attributed to regime forces in Daraa, Hassakeh and Aleppo and to the pro-regime militia in Damascus.