المرصد السوري لحقوق الانسان
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Poverty, displacement and lack of oversight force children to join Ankara-backed “National Army” factions

The children are the main victims of the ongoing Syrian war, which deprived them from their most basic rights. Perhaps one of the most painful scenes is to see a child soldier under the age of 16, carries weapons and participates in the war like any other fighter, when these children must be at the schools receiving education, or with their families.  

Their innocence was exploited by many of the dominant forces in Syria, whether by pro-regime militias, armed opposition factions, jihadist groups, the Islamic State and military factions operating in the areas held by the “Self-Administration, as recruitment of children is conducted by many military factions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has monitored the recruitment of large numbers of children aged between 15 and 18 by the Turkish-backed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” factions in the northern Aleppo countryside. These children are recruited into factions after undergoing military courses, and then deployed to headquarters and checkpoints. Children continue to be recruited despite the existing international laws prohibiting the recruitment of children, especially with living crisis and family disintegration due to the war and displacement, which have paved the way for many children to join armed factions, particularly in areas under the control of Turkish forces and their proxy factions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has monitored the presence of children and among many armed opposition factions, led by the Turkish-backed National Army in the northern Aleppo countryside. The presence of children in the ranks of the “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” factions is widely known and no one can deny it.

According to the Syrian Observatory sources, children represent a proportion of 10 to 12% of the fighters according to each armed faction.

“Al-Hamzat Division”, “Sultan Murad” and “Ahrar Al-Sharqiya” are one among many factions where children are present.

SOHR could not document the exact figures of these children, given the difficulty of obtaining such statistics and the secrecy of such cases. However, at most of the factions’ checkpoints there is one or two fighters under the age of 18.

Here is the percentage distribution of recruited children aged between 15 and 18 in the armed factions:

  • 13% of the total number of “al-Hamzat” faction.
  • 12% of the total number of the “Sultan Murad” faction.
  • 10% of the total number in “Ahrar al-Sharqiya” Group.
  • Approximately 4% of the total number of the “Sham Corps”, “Sultan Suleiman Shah”. While the percentage of recruited children in the rest of the factions is only 3% or 2%. SOHR would like to point out that these are approximate percentages by monitoring graduation courses, training camps, checkpoints, etc.

Local sources from the northern Aleppo countryside have told SOHR that “when an internal fighting occurs between the factions in the area, we see a large number of children among the fighters, also in markets and restaurants carrying their individual weapons, where they think that this is something to be proud of.

Although there are no mandatory decisions for recruiting children in the “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” factions, there is an indifference regarding this issue.

No local strict resolutions have been applied so far that categorically prohibit the recruitment of children under the age of 18.

On the other hand, facilities are provided to children wishing to join the armed factions, as it only requires issuing an ID or a paper given by the personal status departments of the Turkish-backed “Interim Syrian Government”, and even these papers, and IDs and the children’s date of birth can be forged.

There are many reasons why these children are joining armed opposition factions with the “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” areas in the northern Aleppo countryside. A 46-year-old displaced person from Sahl al-Ghab area in western Hama countryside, who lives near the city of Afrin in north-western Aleppo countryside, speaks to SOHR about these reasons: “After my family and I were displaced, living conditions became very difficult because of the costs and burdens of displacement, including renting and securing the needs of my family of six, which forced me to send my 16-year-old son to join a faction within the “National Army.”

He added: “My son participated in the recent battles against the regime in Idlib countryside, and despite our great concern, me and his mother, and fear for him, but the dire living conditions force us to do so. He helps me with the expenses of the house. He is granted a break of 10 days a month, and spends 20 days in headquarters or on frontlines, military courses or checkpoints.”

Certainly, his situation is not much different from that of members in the military formations of the armed opposition, where the majority of the members are displaced or forced by the poverty to join the factions, which is realistic.

Many other reasons for which families send their children to join military factions, including lack of job opportunities, and most children dropped out of schools after they were displaced from their towns and villages, while some families send their children to military factions in order to get protection from any attack that may occur by the factions. In addition to the absence of the role of educational organizations. Some of the families prefer to send their sons to join a particular military faction than send him to work in Turkey, and other reasons. Not to mention the physical and psychological impact on children, losing his right to continue education, putting their life at risks and many other negative impacts.

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