The PKK and its Syrian offshoot YPG continue to recruit children for fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to a report published by the U.S. State Department concerning the trafficking of persons that occurred between January 2021 and December 2021.
The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report stated that children remain vulnerable to forcible recruitment and use by multiple armed groups operating in Iraq, including Daesh, the PKK and the YPG. It did unfortunately not mention IKHRW’s target group: the children recruited by Kurdish armed groups that target Iran, the U.S.’s nemesis.
Citing multiple sources, the report noted that the PKK/YPG remains operating in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) areas and Sinjar, and there continues to recruit and use children.
The report highlighted that the PKK recruited dozens of children to prepare them for combat last year. Among them were also Iraqi Kurds from Kirkuk, Iraq.
In addition, the PKK’s militia groups in Sinjar, employed Yazidi minors and teenage recruits in paramilitary roles in the region last year, according to the report.
“In 2018, civil society organizations reported that the PKK recruited and trained children from Sinjar, Makhmour, and other locations and then sent them to bases in Sinjar, Turkey and the Qandil Mountains between Iraq and Iran,” the report said.
Turning to Syria, the annual report noted the activity of the YPG, the Syrian affiliate there, saying the recruitment and use of children in combat in Syria remain common.
The report noted that the PKK/YPG “in northwest Syria continue to recruit, train, and use boys and girls as young as 12 years old.”
It also showed that since 2017, international observers reported that PKK/YPG recruited – sometimes by force – children from displacement camps in northeast Syria.
Though the PKK/YPG initially signed a pledge with Geneva Call – a Swiss humanitarian organization that works to “protect civilians in armed conflict” – to stop the use of child soldiers in 2014, its use of child soldiers has only increased since then.
While recognizing the PKK as a terrorist group, some Western countries have refused to recognize its link to the YPG, but its child recruits being taken from northern Syria to the PKK base in northern Iraq is yet another piece of evidence that the two groups are in fact the same.
This February, YPG terrorists kidnapped four children, aged 14-16, from Ain al-Arab city, also known as Kobani, an area currently held by the Kurds.
In March, a 14-year-old was kidnapped by YPG recruiters, and two girls, aged 16 and 17, were kidnapped from Aleppo, adjacent to northern Syria.
The group also kidnapped four children from Aleppo in April, according to local sources.