The attack in Gaziantep (south-eastern Turkey) during a wedding on Saturday 20th of August 2016 left hundreds killed. This shows us once again that children are the main victims of the ongoing conflict, not only because the attacker is a child aged between 12 and 14 years, but because half of those who died that night were children. What is shocking here is how vulnerable children can be in the context of armed conflict and sectarian tension and how important it is to raise more awareness about the recruitment of children for participating in hostilities.
UNICEF considers the recruitment of children as a criminal act, noting that “the recruitment of children, girls and boys who are, in many cases, younger than seven years old by the armed groups and forces in different parts of the world is an illegal act.”
Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ICC, the recruitment of children under 15 years of age to participate in hostilities by armed forces or groups is considered a war crime. “Similarly, the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflicts, states in the first article that “States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities“. In order to raise awareness on this subject, February 12 of each year has been declared as the international day against the recruitment of children under the slogan: children, not soldiers.
Also, their right to protection was mentioned clearly in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child CRC, which states that every child has the right to grow in an environment that ensures protection (Article 19 from 22.32 to 35.39 and 40).
Despite the assurances of international law and the efforts of international organizations to work on the release of children involved in any armed groups, there are still at least 250,000 children working with the armed groups in the world today. Girls constitute 40% of them, especially in Africa.
Children are the ones who “pay the price for adult’s war” (Peter Salama, UNICEF)
In its report “No Place for Children”, UNICEF indicate that one in three Syrian children has grown up knowing only conflict.
In the early years of the conflict, armed groups mostly recruited male children aged 15-17 years. They were used to provide support away from the front lines. However, since 2014, all the parties in the conflict have recruited children, some of them as young as 7 years old, often without parental consent.
The issue of child recruitment was highlighted for the first time in the Syrian conflict in 2012. In 2015, the United Nations declared that “142 of the workers in tunnel digging at the Free Syrian Army were children, and 24 among those in Kurdish armed groups YPG.
Taking into consideration that these numbers are much lower than the reality, but they are the only ones which could be verified.
The Syrian militias and Hezbollah forces, who are pro the Assad regime, were accused of using children as “human shields” or imposition of “forced labour” on them.
According to the same report, “In 77% of cases recognized by the United Nations, one in five of the children being used as gunmen or fighters, is under the age of 15. Noting that, the boys recruited to armed groups are between 14 and 17 years. We also know that there are some child soldiers who receive about $400 per month, which gives significant support to families and demonstrates once again the role of poverty in the enrolment of child soldiers in these forces.
In its report on child soldiers, UNICEF indicates that the most common reasons behind the spreading of recruitment “Is often not that the child is choosing to become a soldier, but that he is the abducted and forcibly recruited into groups / armed forces. In some cases, the children join voluntarily when they are separated from their families or due to displacement and poverty caused by it, and living in conflict zones where there is no longer any chance of employment, or education. “
All the groups are doing it
Daesh is publicising to recruit children who they call “The lions of Khilafe”. This has been covered extensively by the media, including an article in France 24, which referred to the case of the British child Isaa Dari who was taken to Syria by his mother, and appeared in several videos by one of the armed groups.
Those children are brainwashed and trained in camps dedicated to this goal to participate in fighting. Sometimes they will be trained in camps for young people then used as snipers or to execute people who have been given a death sentence.
At the same time, Kurdish forces YPG and YPJ fighting against Daesh, are also continuously using child soldiers, which is inconsistent with the obligations they have set out in advance.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), despite efforts to demobilize minors’ girls and boys from Kurdish forces, many are still participating in fighting, especially in northern Syria.
On June 5th 2014, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) signed the Geneva Convention, pledging to demobilize all combatants below 18 years old within a month. After a month, 149 children has been demobilized from YPG forces. HRW also points out in its report that “another factor of concern” is that the Kurdish groups have created a “non-combatant status” for children between the ages of 16 and 17, so they are used on a standby basis, where that despite signing of a commitment to the Geneva Call, they have kept a proviso that they will continue to recruit children aged between 16 and 17 years, but they will not be using them in military campaigns.
Due to the hazardous environment faced by this generation of Syrian children inside and outside the country, in January 2016 Ma belle école, in cooperation with Syrian NGOs, launched the “Sponsor a child” project which aims to provide care for children in a number of regions of the country to help them to access education and help them to stop begging, working in dangerous jobs and get them back into school.
The financial support provided for the child’s family through the scheme allows the family to take care of their children and keep them away from the financial temptation offered by armed groups. Also, it allows the family to achieve its obligations in protecting its children and their survival.
To sponsor a child, click here.