A recent Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, released by the UN, reveals a concerning rise in the number of minors joining armed groups in Syria. This trend has been ongoing for the past three years.
Previous UN reports have highlighted the following figures for “child soldiers” in Syria: 813 in 2020, 1,296 in 2021, and 1,696 in the most recent year. Despite the UN’s agreement with the SDF, an affiliate of the PKK and a US ally, in 2019 to halt the recruitment of children, the number of confirmed cases of recruitment has actually increased annually. Approximately 637 out of the recorded cases of child soldiers in Syria are attributed to the SDF.
The report also mentions the Syrian National Army (SNA), which consists of Turkish-backed FSA factions. Like the SDF, the SNA had previously expressed willingness to reduce the use of minors. However, the report found that 611 minors were still serving in SNA ranks. Additionally, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) was reported to have employed 383 minors over the past year.
Some human rights groups suggest that these figures may only scratch the surface and fail to fully depict the extent to which children are being recruited and utilized by military factions. Bassam Alahmad, executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), told the Associated Press (AP) that the SDF’s recruitment numbers are much higher. Alahmad also accused the group of complacency in the recruitment of children, some of whom are trafficked out of Syria for training or military deployment.
Unemployment, food and economic insecurity, ongoing conflict, and a lack of educational opportunities all contribute to the recruitment of children by military factions in Syria. The longer the conflict persists and a climate of desperation and hopelessness prevails, the greater the likelihood that both military groups and children will remain intertwined.