Recruitments of Child Soldiers by the PYD

Reports of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, as well as the research done by KurdWatch has shown that the People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) continuously recruit children aged between twelve and seventeen years of age, and sends them into armed combat.

There are no exact numbers of how many children are part of the YPG and the YPJ. Many parents whose children have been taken away by the PYD remain silent—either out of fear or because they hope to achieve the release of their children through »negotiations«. Despite the periodic, publicly communicated release of some child soldiers by the YPG, the practice of recruiting minors was not generally stopped.

In the following cases, KurdWatch was able to research details concerning minors in the YPG and the YPJ:

source: facebook

There is a logic behind the recruitment of children and adolescents: young people are easier to recruit than adults, especially when they are told that their fight is »heroic«. Especially young women and girls from conservative, patriarchal families also hope to gain more personal freedom by joining the Women’s Defense Units. Children and adolescents are more easily influenced than adults concerning the PYD’s ideological training. They have less intellectual and mental resources to encounter and oppose it. Additionally, there is another crucial reason for the increased recruitment of minors: Many young, male Kurds have left the country for the fear of forced recruitment and other political repressions by the PYD [further information]. This left a staff shortage within the People’s Defense Units (YPG), which is now to be met with the recruitment of children and adolescents.  

source: facebook

The interview conducted on February 12, 2014 by HRW with a sixteen-year-old YPG member who had joined the militia in the previous year provides insight into the recruitment practices of the YPG. The boy reports that he had been approached by YPG fighters at the local youth center.

»They would talk to us about the Kurdish situation and explained the importance of defending the [Kurdish] nation. It is our choice to join […] My mom and dad were against it and said no but I wanted to«. (HRW report 2014)

He further reports that he had registered himself under his real name and his correct age. Afterwards he received weapons training and has since worked at various checkpoints.

»In the morning I go to school and then I go to serve.«

The case of Nurman Ibrahim Khalifa shows another side to the story. She was born in 2001 and when she was thirteen-years-old and in ninth grade she was kidnapped by the PYD and taken to a PKK military camp in Iraqi-Kurdistan. There, she was going to be trained to become a guerilla-soldier. After one and a half months she managed to escape. Nurman told KurdWatch:

»When I came to the mountains [to Iraqi Kurdistan], a girl who had already tried to escape seven times before, was caught while trying to escape once more. We were all brought together. There was a meeting throughout the whole evening. She was placed on a stage and told that a PKK-bullet was too good for her. Then she was shot and thrown into the river.« [Read the whole Interview]