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Last update: September 2020
*Minor updates added: February 2023

COI summary

[Main COI reference: Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 92-94]

A report covering the period from September 2011 to the end of October 2019 stated that children, most frequently boys, have been used in hostilities by parties to the conflict for combat roles, to act as spies or informants, or to serve at checkpoints. Both State forces, including NDF and pro-government militias, and non-State armed groups are reported to recruit minors to their forces. From January to December 2018, the UN verified that a total of 806 children were recruited, of which 670 were boys and 136 were girls. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 92]

Regarding SAA, one source indicated that they are not aware of child recruitment, but there has always been a problem with youths, particularly those close but not quite of eligible age for conscription. Government-affiliated armed groups are said to have had minors among their ranks, albeit ostensibly on a voluntary basis. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 93]

The non-State groups reported to recruit children include Ahrar al Sham, groups affiliated with the FSA, ISIL, Army of Islam, HTS, YPG, and Nur al-Din al-Zanki. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 92]  

As long as ISIL held territory in Syria, it conducted child recruitment at a wider scale and in a different mode than other armed groups. ISIL claimed to have used 1 350 primary and secondary schools for recruitment purposes and subjected students to its ideological curriculum. ISIL was also conducting kidnappings, partly from orphanages, schools and family homes. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 93]

The prevalence of child recruitment was reportedly highest in opposition groups, particularly the SNA, with a source suggesting the explanation that they are often based on a more local level built on a framework that started as village militias. With the HTS and its affiliates, the practice of child recruitment seemed to be less present, although it has been visible in some other affiliated groups, such as Turkistan Islamic Party and other ethnic-specific Al Qaeda affiliates in northwest Syria, where fighting has become a communal activity. [Targeting 2020, 12.1, pp. 93]

See also the subsection ‘Child recruitment’ under 4.6. Persons fearing forced or child recruitment by Kurdish forces.

Risk analysis

Child recruitment is of such severe nature that it would amount to persecution.

The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: socio-economic situation (for example, residing in IDP camps), family status, area of origin or residence, ethnicity, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

The individual circumstances of the applicant need to be taken into account to determine whether a nexus to a reason for persecution can be substantiated. For example, in the case of children who refuse to join armed groups, persecution may be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.