The United States confirmed Tuesday that the PKK terrorist organization and its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed People's Protection Units (YPG) continues to recruit and use children as young as 12 years old as militants despite signing a pledge of commitment with an international organization in June 2014 to demobilize all fighters younger than 18 years old in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
In its annual report on human trafficking, the U.S. State Department said the group recruits boys and girls, some of them younger than 15, subjecting them to indoctrination and sending them to training camps. In some cases the children are taken by force against the wishes of their families.
The report said that children in Syria and Iraq are vulnerable to the forced recruitment by armed groups such as the YPG, Daesh and Iranian militias.
Emphasizing that children remain highly vulnerable to forcible recruitment and use by multiple armed groups, the report says the PKK also useschild soldiers, especially in Turkey and Iraq.
"Reports indicate youth participate in PKK forces, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Turkish governments," the report says, while further adding that the PKK and Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) – a Yazidi militia– forcibly recruited and used Kurdish and Yazidi boys and girls, some as young as 12 years old, in combat and support roles in northern Iraq.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish PYD and its YPG milita to be affiliates of the PKK. The U.S. and EU do not share Ankara's concerns regarding the YPG. Continuous U.S. support for the YPG has caused tensions between Washington and Ankara while the former says that supporting the YPG is the only option to defeat Daesh and the latter says an alternative could be found with local Arab tribes backed by countries in the region, rather than supporting and arming "a terrorist group".
The PKK and the YPG have a history of exploiting children and forcing them to become soldiers. Earlier in 2017, the YPG mandated conscription for all girls and boys over the age of 16 in the city of Manbij, located on the west banks of the Euphrates River.
Yazidis, a regional minority group, have also suffered from oppressive acts at the hands of the PKK and PYD. The terrorist groups allegedly drove Yazidi children onto the battlefront, either by deceiving them or kidnapping them in Iraq and Syria, Sinjar District Governor Mehma Halili from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) claimed last year.
A recent report from Turkey's Interior Ministry titled "The Forcible Recruitment and Deployment of Child Soldiers by the Democratic Union Party in Syria", says that the majority of those recruited from abroad for the PKK have been predominantly from Syria, where the YPG is fighting for regional influence, and claimed that the average age of recruits stands at 12 years of age.
"Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a state should not, under any circumstances, recruit or exploit in hostilities any persons under the age of 18 years," the U.N. Convention on Children's Rights states regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict.
A report , "Forcible recruitments and the deployment of child soldiers by the Democratic Union Party in Syria", prepared by KurdWatch in 2015, reported the YPG child recruits are as young as 12 years old, and that recruitment is sometimes forcible.
The PYD continues carrying out its aim of changing demographics in northern Syria by forcing Arab and Turkmen populations to migrate while also oppressing Kurds who do not share the same political ideology. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused the PYD and YPG of committing other violations such as extrajudicial and arbitrary detainment and killings.
The PYD's oppression of rival political voices, including burning down their offices and arresting or kidnapping members, has been voiced as a concern by some Kurds in northern Syria.
A report published in January 2016 by the Syrian Network of Human Rights (SNHR) says: "Until the date of publication of the SNHR report, it was noted that at least 407 civilians, including 51 children, 43 women and scores of other individuals, have lost their lives."