Enab Baladi – Nour al-deen Ramadan
Almost one year after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) signed an action plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment of children in its ranks, accusations are still leveled against the SDF of not abiding by its pledges to stop the practice.
International Human Rights Watch published a report in August 2018, in which it said that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has been recruiting children, including girls, to fight in its ranks, including children from families in displacement camps under its control.
At the time, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), a political assembly representing political parties and organizations in North and East Syria, responded to the report by saying that violations represent individual excesses.
Between families’ rejection and coercion
Nour (a pseudonym for security reasons and fear for her safety) is a 16-year-old YPG fighter, told Enab Baladi that she joined the “Raqqa Youth” last March and then went to a military training course in Qamhisili. There she met some fighters who convinced her to join the ranks of the “units” and she agreed without the knowledge of her parents.
When Nour visited her family, her father prevented her from leaving the house. Then, she communicated with her command, which sent a patrol that “released her from her parents,” as she put it.
Nour now takes part in inspecting women at checkpoints in the town of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, and has not visited her family since then, although she has a six-day monthly leave.
On the other hand, “Shams Afrin,” as she likes to call herself, told Enab Baladi that she joined the “Women’s Protection Units” in 2015 in Afrin when she was 17 years old.
“I joined, and I am sure that what I’m doing is right,” she said, adding that she has learned a lot” on using arms and standing against injustice.” Shams Afrin’s parents did not mind her joining the YPG, as they have also been YPG fighters since 2014.
The father of a female member of the “Women Protection Units,” who refused to have his name mentioned for reasons related to his safety, told Enab Baladi that his daughter participated with the “Youth of the Revolution” affiliated with the “SDF,” then joined the “Units” camps, in contravention of her family’s opinion and community customs.
The father of a female member of “the Women Protection Units,” who refused to have his name mentioned for reasons related to his safety, told Enab Baladi that his daughter took part in the SDF-affiliated Youth of the Revolution, then joined the YPG camps.
He added that he had to disavow his daughter and her action after he went to the YPG center and demanded the return of his daughter, and the Women Protection fighters expelled him from the center several times.
A 15-year-old girl was kidnapped last week in the village of Tawi Berman in the suburbs of Raqqa governorate, amid accusations that the Women’s Protection Units were behind this incident after they agreed with the girl to recruit her.
A relative of the girl said in an interview with Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Raqqa, said that “What happened is unacceptable in our society; persuading girls by quick means and then recruiting them is illegal and destroys the family unit.”
The girl’s relative confirmed with some eyewitnesses that a white “van” kidnapped the girl from her parents’ house and left the area quickly towards the city center.
This situation was repeated for the second time; this August, a girl was kidnapped in the same way near her parents’ house in the village of Hamra Jamasa, east of the city of Raqqa.
Al-Quds-Al-Arabi, an independent pan-Arab daily newspaper, highlighted in a report published on 7 July 2020, the increase in the kidnapping phenomenon of minors for compulsory recruitment, amid accusations that the Kurdish YPG is responsible for that.
Khatoon, a fighter in the “Women’s Protection Units” for three years, said that she chose this path herself and loved to participate in the fight of the so-called Islamic State (IS) with the YPG as she was encouraged by some female fighters.
Khatoon, who refused to mention her full name, added, “I am from Ain Issa town in the northern countryside of Raqqa, and I am a daughter of clans. I know that joining the fighters is against our customs, but times have changed, and we have to go with it.” She argued that women used to work as policewomen under the control of the Syrian regime.
The vice president of the independent Syrian Kurds Association, lawyer Radeef Mustafa told Enab Baladi that the YPG kidnapped minors to recruit them into its ranks, thereby violating human and children’s rights.
He explained that this is taking place secretly in northeastern Syria, and the frequency of recruitment is linked to the amount of pressure exerted by international organizations on the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration, and that contradicts the “plan” signed with the United Nations.
Not outright denial
The Director of the Media Office of the “Raqqa Civil Council,” Mustafa al-Abd, denied to Enab Baladi that minors are recruited or employed, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, within the ranks of the “Autonomous Administration” forces in their various formations, and even in their civil institutions.
Al-Abd said, “According to the bylaw of the Defense Office in the Autonomous Administration, the mandatory minimum age is 18 years, but sometimes during recruitment campaigns, the arrest of those younger than the mandated age occurs. The patrol officers sometimes make mistakes in estimating the ages of the youths because they do not have evidence to substantiate their allegations. As soon as their parents or relatives bring documents showing that their children are too young to serve in the armed forces, they are immediately released.
Al-Abd stressed that the recruitment of underage girls into the SDF forces is “never true.”
The New Arab, a pan-Arab media outlet, quoted an unnamed source in the city of Qamishi as saying that “The Revolutionary Youth Organization” is responsible for the recruitment of minors. The organization takes males and females to closed military camps, offer them temptations and promote their tendency to take up arms.
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