Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which controls territory in northern Syria, are not meeting their commitment to demobilise child soldiers.
On June 5, 2014, the YPG signed a “Deed of Commitment” with nongovernmental organisation Geneva Call in which it pledged to demobilise girl and boy fighters under the age of 18 fighting with it within a month.
About 149 children were demobilised a month later, but Human Rights Watch has documented within the last year cases of 59 children under 18 being recruited. According to public sources, some of those children participated in battles and died in June 2015. Ten of the 59 children who allegedly joined the YPG over the past year were aged 15 or younger.
Human Rights Watch has urged the YPG to stop mobilising 16 and 17-year-old children, even if they are not involved in combat. Non-state armed groups are not allowed to recruit children under 18 for any purpose, according to The Optional Protocol to the Children’s Rights Convention on Children and Armed Conflict.
Recruiting children under 15 and enlisting them is considered a war crime for members of armed forces under customary international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The YPG promised to stop sending children to war and it should carry out its promise,” Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Of course the Kurdish forces are fighting groups like ISIS that flout the laws of war, but that’s no excuse to tolerate abuses by its own forces.”
The United Nations secretary general’s report to the Security Council said using children in armed conflict in Syria had become “commonplace.”
“The United Nations verified cases of 271 boys and 7 girls who had been recruited and used by groups affiliated with, among others, the Free Syrian Army (142), YPG (24), ISIS (69), and [al Qaeda affiliated] al-Nusra Front (25), and the actual numbers are believed to be higher.” the report said.
Hezbollah and other armed groups fighting alongside the Syrian government, such as and the Popular Committees, have also reportedly recruited children in small numbers, according to the report.
“Armed groups in Syria are placing children in direct harm by giving them weapons and sending them to fight,” Abrahams said.
“The YPG has a chance to stop this practice and show that it’s serious about keeping its commitments on human rights.”