Kurdish militia in Syria and Sunni Extremists in Iraq have allegedly violated the ban on use of child soldiers in armed conflict. The militia has been the main force for combating the Islamic State group within the country. The U.S. led coalition allegedly fund training camps that aggressively recruit children as executioners, suicide bombers etc. Interestingly no UN convention bans giving military training to minors. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has an Optional Protocol to the Children's Rights Convention on Children and Armed Conflict that simply limits children under the age of 18 to be recruited to armed groups. The article seeks to discuss the implication of the absence of a convention prohibiting the training of minors on the liability of the coalition states.
This is not that first time that the Syrian government and involved militia have been accused of human rights violations against children. However, the YPG, which is the armed wing of Syria’s Democratic Union Party, an offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been the main force for combating the Islamic State group within the country, has recently come under fire from the Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW has heavily criticized the failure of the militia to meet their commitment to stop using children in conflict.
This failure is of particular significance considering it was only in June 2014, that the People's Protection Unit signed a "Deed of Commitment"with a non governmental organization Geneva Call where they pledged to "demobilize all fighters under 18 within one month." Following the agreement, the YPG issued orders to recruiter centers ordering them not to enlist anyone under 18. Further, internal regulations of the YPG as well as the Kurdish-run police force, called Asayish, formally forbid the use of under-18-year-olds. Although 149 children were demobilized within that month, in the past year HRW has alleged that there has been continued use and death of child soldiers in the group amounting to a violation of the ban on use of child soldiers. The Watch compiled a list of 59 children, 10 of them under 15, who were recruited by or volunteered for theYPG and its women's branch, since July 2014. The human rights group added that some children fighting alongside those forces, based on public sources, apparently died in combat in June 2015.
HRW raisedadditional concerns regarding YPG's “non-combatant category” for children aged 16 and 17. The militia leaders in their letter, the humanitarian watch dog claimed that they kept recruits under this category away from the front lines. But the rights group has contended that the practicebreaches international humanitarian norms, which prohibit the recruitment by armed groups of under-18-year-olds in any capacity: as scouts, checkpoint guards or couriers. This follows from the optional protocol approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 2002 which prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting under-18-year-olds in any capacity.
The above recruitment is yet another way in which minors are being dragged into Iraq and Syria's brutal war as themilitary, Shiite militias, Sunni tribes and Kurdish fighters battle to take back territory from ISIS.It is unfortunate to think that these sensitivities will only increase as the war drags on and the issue of child soldier recruitment by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham the Assad regime or opposition groups is left wanting.
CONCERNS REGARDING THE FUNDING OF TRAINING CAMPS
The U.S. led coalition allegedly fund training camps that aggressively recruit children as executioners, suicide bombers etc. The existence of dozens of training camps for minors could have serious implications for the U.S. led coalition, which provides billions of dollars in military and economic aid to the Syrian and Iraqi government but has distanced itself from the Iranian-backed militias. The U.S. does not work directly with the Popular Mobilization Forces, but the group receives weapons and funding from the Iraqi government and is trained by the Iraqi military, which receives its training from the U.S.Interestingly no UN convention bans giving military training to minors.The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rightshas an Optional Protocol to the Children's Rights Convention on Children and Armed Conflict that simply limitschildren under the age of 18 to be recruited to armed groups.
The US government previously came under heavy fire in the year 2011 for their decision to continue military assistance to governments using child soldiers. The US Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 prohibits the US government from providing US foreign military financing, military training, and several other categories of US military assistance to governments using child soldiers. However, the Obama administration announced waivers to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, allowing military assistance to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Yemen despite the continued use of children in their armed forces. The President contended that the countries were “on notice” and needed time to address their child soldiers’ problem.
The use of child soldiers by Kurdish militias is a complex issue which cannot be resolved easily, as these groups face significant challenges and shortage of manpower in their fight due to crippling poverty and most of the able men in these societies being conscripted. This is a process which can only be resolved, if relevant institutions like the UN, the US etc. enter into dialogue with the states and non-state entities involved in the conflict. There needs to be protection of education and healthcare facilities in these conflict zones so that more children are not endangered. The UN Security Council can also seek to play a greater role in this by tabling and ratifying more child recruitment related resolutions. Also, the focus should not only be on stopping recruitment, but preventing re-recruitment with the help of various educational, family and community support programs.
 Jamie Dettmer, Kurdish Militia Accused of Using Child Soldiers, available at http://www.voanews.com/content/hrw-kurdish-forces-using-child-fighters-despite-pledge-to demobilize/2862390.html, last visited on 20th August, 2015.
 Syrian Kurdish armed non-State actor commits to ban anti-personnel mines, sexual violence and child recruitment, available athttp://www.genevacall.org/syrian-kurdish-armed-non-state-actor-commits-ban-anti-personnel-mines-sexual-violence-child-recruitment/, last visited on 22nd August,2015.
Syria: Kurdish Forces Violating Child Soldier Ban, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/10/syria-kurdish-forces-violating-child-soldier-ban-0, last visited on 4th August, 2015.
 UN General Assembly, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement
of children in armed conflict, 12 February 2002, available at,http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/OPACCRC.aspx, last visited on 20th July, 2015.
 Lizzie Dearden, Anti-Isis summer camp: Schoolboys trained by Iraqi government-backed Shia militias, available at,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraqi-governmentbacked-shia-militias-training-child-soldiers-in-camps-during-school-holidays-10422204.html, last visited on 20th July, 2015.
Supra note 6.
US: Don’t Finance Child Soldiers, available at, https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/10/04/us-dont-finance-child-soldiers, last visited on 20th July, 2015.
Recruiting Child Soldiers in Syria,available at,http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2015/0715/Recruiting-child-soldiers-in-Syria-How-to-stop-it , last visited on 26th August, 2015.