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Recruiting child soldiers in Syria: How to stop it?

The United Nations says recruiting child soldiers has become commonplace in Syria, with several groups using children in combat.

AP Photo/File
Islamic State group militants stand by a captured Iraqi army Humvee at a checkpoint outside Beiji refinery in Iran on June 19, 2014, Iraq.

Since the rise of the Islamic State group, recruiting child soldiers in Syria has become an issue with both jihadists and Kurdish militia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that more than 50 child soldiers recruited by Islamic State have been killed in Syria since January.

The group, which is based in London and has a network of sources in Syria, says 31 child soldiers were killed in July.

Since the beginning of 2015, the Islamic State group has recruited more than 1,100 children, the monitoring group says.

But it is not just ISIS. As the United Nations says, recruiting child soldiers has been going on among several Syrian groups including the Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra Front, and Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG).

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that despite promising to stop recruiting child soldiers, YPG still uses children in combat.

On June 5, 2014, YPG signed a “Deed of Commitment” with the nongovernmental organization Geneva Call promising to demobilize all fighters under 18 within a month. The group had demobilized 149 children a month after the agreement.

However, Human Rights Watch says that 59 children allegedly joined YPG over the past year, with ten of them being under 15.

The International Criminal Court says “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups” is a war crime.

Last June, YPG told Human Rights Watch that there had been “some individual cases” of using children in fights over the past year. YPG added that due to ongoing armed conflict, the group faces “significant challenges” to stop its use of child soldiers.

According to the UN, an estimated 300,000 children are involved in conflicts around the world. Although difficult, the previous and ongoing efforts to demobilize child soldiers have been successful in some cases.

In March 2014, the UN launched the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers” to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by 2016. The campaign focuses on Afghanistan, Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. In March 2015, the campaign reported that in a year, over 400 children were released from the national army in Myanmar. In Afghanistan, the recruitment of children has declined.

And in the case of Chad, the country signed an action plan with the UN in 2011 to end child recruitment. In 2014, UN reported that no violations were recorded in Chad in 2013 and took the country’s name off the list of child recruiters.

The United Nation says its goal is to engage in dialogue with both states and non-state armed groups to facilitate the demobilization of child soldiers. It also insists on protecting education and health care in conflict zones and ratification of child recruitment-related resolutions by the Security Council.

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, which was engaged in demobilization of child soldiers in a number of countries including Afghanistan, Liberia, Colombia and Sri Lanka, insists that the process should include strategies to prevent re-recruitment, as well as education and family and community-support programs.

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