A recent United Nations report reveals that armed groups in Syria have continued to recruit children throughout the 12-year conflict and civil war, even as the intensity of fighting has decreased in many areas. The report, released on Tuesday, highlights a growing trend of child soldier recruitment in the country.
According to the UN, the number of children recruited by armed groups in Syria has been steadily rising over the past three years. In 2020, there were 813 reported cases of child recruitment, which increased to 1,296 in 2021, and further escalated to 1,696 in 2022.
The report also sheds light on the involvement of various groups in the recruitment of child soldiers. Surprisingly, one of the groups implicated in child recruitment is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US ally in the fight against Islamic State extremists. In 2022, the UN attributed 637 cases to the SDF and associated groups in northeast Syria.
Additionally, the report confirms 611 recruitment cases by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, which has clashed with the SDF in the past, and 383 cases by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in northwest Syria. The Syrian government forces and pro-government militias were cited as being responsible for 25 cases of child recruitment.
Children are being recruited from all across Syria, according to Bassam Alahmad, the executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, an independent civil society organization. The recruitment methods vary, ranging from forced conscription to voluntary enlistment driven by financial needs, ideology, family ties, or tribal loyalties. In some instances, children are even sent abroad to participate as mercenaries in other conflicts.
Efforts to curb child recruitment in Syria have faced challenges due to the complex network of armed groups operating within different regions of the country. The issue of child soldiers remains a grave concern, highlighting the continued vulnerability of children in conflict-affected areas.