Paris Principles and UN-Child Convention
According to the Paris Principles (2007), a person under the age of eighteen is defined as a child soldier, when he or she
»has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes.« (Unicef 2007)
Moreover, both, the forced recruitment of persons who have not yet reached the age of eighteen, and their recruitment against the will of their parents violate the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, which came into effect in February 2002. Article 3 states:
»(1) States Parties shall raise the minimum age for the voluntary recruitment of persons into their national armed forces from that set out in article 38, paragraph 3, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, taking account of the principles contained in that article and recognizing that under the Convention persons under the age of eighteen years are entitled to special protection.«
In the same article, the concrete steps that have to be taken are defined:
»(3) States Parties that permit voluntary recruitment into their national armed forces under the age of eighteen years shall maintain safeguards to ensure, as a minimum, that:
a) Such recruitment is genuinely voluntary;
b) Such recruitment is carried out with the informed consent of the person’s parents or legal guardians;
c) Such persons are fully informed of the duties involved in such military service;
d) Such persons provide reliable proof of age prior to acceptance into national military service.«
The recruitment of children under fifteen years of age and their use in combat violates Article 38 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Article 38, Paragraph 2 and 3 state:
» (2) States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.«
»(3) States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.«
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, »conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities« is defined as war crime.
Conscription Act and Commitment
In addition to the international agreements mentioned, the PYD is also violating its own »laws« and agreements: On July 13, 2014, the PYD passed the law on compulsory military service for the Syrian Kurdish areas. Articles 2 and 3 define to whom this law applies:
»(2) The duty of self-defence is a social and moral duty of the entire population. Therefore it is the responsibility of each family that resides in the region to supply a member to carry out this duty.«
»(3) The provisions of this law apply to all males between the ages of eighteen and thirty years. Women may volunteer themselves to self-defence.«
Hence, the recruitment of persons under the age of eighteen violates the PYD’s own law.
Due to the initiative of the NGO Geneva Call, representatives of the YPG, YPJ and the »autonomous democratic self-administration« signed a declaration of commitment on July 5, 2014, whereby they pledged to protect children in armed conflicts [Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict]. This declaration determines that children under the age of eighteen shall not be used in armed conflicts and further be protected from the consequences of armed conflicts.
»By signing the Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict, Ansas [armed non-State actors] agree, inter alia, to:
• prohibit the use of children in hostilities;
• ensure that children are not recruited into, or forcibly associated with, armed forces;
• release or disassociate children in safety and security;
• protect children from the effects of military operations;
• do their best to provide children with the aid and care they need, in cooperation with specialized child protection agencies.«
After signing the Deed of Commitment, allegedly one hundred forty-nine minors have been released from the ranks of YPG and PYD. Nevertheless, there has been no fundamental change in the recruitment practices of the PYD since the declaration was signed.