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Syria: Opposition Using Children in Conflict
Human Rights Watch
29 November 2012
 
Armed opposition groups fighting in Syria are using children for combat and other military purposes, Human Rights Watch said today. Children as young as 14 have served in at least three opposition brigades, transporting weapons and supplies and acting as lookouts, Human Rights Watch found, and children as young as 16 have carried arms and taken combat roles against government forces. Opposition commanders should make public commitments to end this practice, and to prohibit the use of anyone under 18 for military purposes – even if they volunteer.

Human Rights Watch interviewed five boys between the ages of 14 and 16 who said they had worked with the armed opposition in Homs, Daraa, and Khirbet al-Jawz, a small Idlib town near the Turkish border. Three of the boys, all age 16, said they carried weapons. One said he received military training and participated in attack missions. Two boys – ages 14 and 15 – said they, together with other boys, supported opposition brigades by conducting reconnaissance or transporting weapons and supplies. In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed three Syrian parents who said their sons under 18 had remained in Syria to fight.

“All eyes are on the Syrian opposition to prove they’re trying to protect children from bullets and bombs, rather than placing them in danger,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “One of the best ways opposition military commanders can protect children is to make a strong, public commitment against use of children in their forces, and to verify boys’ ages before allowing them to enlist.”

In some cases, boys interviewed said that they had volunteered to fight along with older siblings or family members. In other cases, they said opposition soldiers asked them to participate. In all cases, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, to which Syria became party in 2003, states that, “Armed groups, distinct from the armed forces of a State, should not under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.” (…)

In August, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report in which it “note[d] with concern reports that children under 18 are fighting and performing auxiliary roles for anti-Government armed groups.” It added that, “The commission received assurances from Colonel Riad al-Asaad that an FSA policy not to use children in combat is in place. There is evidence to suggest, however, that this policy is not uniformly being adhered to by the FSA and other anti-Government armed groups.” (…)

Countries financing or supplying arms to opposition groups should urge the FSA to prohibit the use of those under 18 for military purposes, whether as active combatants or in support roles, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch found that refugee boys in neighboring countries remain vulnerable to recruitment and participation. (…)

Boys who served the armed opposition groups interviewed by Human Rights Watch came from particularly vulnerable segments of the Syrian population. Three of the five boys interviewed said they did not know how to read, and four had worked full-time before participating in FSA activities. None were attending school at the time they joined the FSA, as even those who formerly attended stopped because schools had closed in their community or because their families deemed the security risk too great. (…)


 

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