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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Syria

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Syria, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 22 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 19.0 million (8.4 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 307,600
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18 (see text)
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: acceded 17 October 2003
Other Treaties: GC AP I, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

There were no reports that under-18s were used by government armed forces.


National recruitment legislation and practice

Under the terms of the constitution conscription was compulsory for all Syrians (Article 40). In practice, it only applied to Syrian (and Palestinian) males over the age of 19 living in Syria. Under the Service of the Flag Law, Decree No. 115 of 5 October 1953, the minimum age for conscription was the "first day of January in the year in which a Syrian citizen reaches 19". The law reserved the right to lower the recruitment age to 18 in times of "war or emergency" from the "first day of January following the date on which the recruit reaches 18 years of age".1 In 2005 military service was reduced from 30 to 24 months.2 In 2007 Decree No. 30 further amended the Flag Law and updated conditions for the deferral of service and exemptions, including study and residency abroad.3 Those from families with only one son were also exempted.4 From the ages of 17 to 42, all Syrian males required advance permission from the Armed Forces recruitment department to leave the country. Voluntary recruitment was open to men and women over 18.5

Article 6 of the Service of the Flag Law stipulated the procedures to be followed to prevent the direct participation in hostilities of members of the armed forces below 18 years of age. There was no known domestic legislation to criminalize the recruitment of under-18s, but Syria said that it closely monitored the ages of recruits. Syria held that all international instruments signed by the government, including the Optional Protocol, were treated as domestic law, so that there was "no need to enact a special law to incorporate such an instrument into domestic law".6

Military training and military schools

Syria had phased out military education in schools.7 The Ministry of Defence ran schools for the families of those who had died in the course of military service, but these followed the same curriculum as those run by the Ministry of Education.8 Conscripted officers were trained at the three main armed forces academies at Homs, Latakia and Aleppo.9

Child recruitment and deployment

There were no reports that children were being recruited into government forces.10 However, there was potential for confusion on verifying this, given problems in registering births in some areas, particularly Kurdish regions. The need for improved documentation, irrespective of the legal status of parents, was highlighted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights made it difficult to verify implementation in that area.11

Armed Groups:

Syria continued to support a number of non-state armed groups in the region, including those reported to have recruited under-18s, notably Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.12 Leaders of both Hamas and PIJ were based in Damascus.13 Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), were also alleged to have carried out military training inside Syria.14 No information came to light on the involvement of under-18s. There were a number of Iraqi armed groups, both Shia and Sunni, with members in Syria, notably former Ba'athists.15 Observers had not noted any efforts to recruit under-18s from the growing refugee population. However, low school registration and limited humanitarian assistance meant that there was a strong risk of this happening.16


On acceding to the Optional Protocol in 2003, Syria supported the "straight-18" position, and stated that "the statutes in force and the legislation applicable to the Ministry of Defence of the Syrian Arab Republic do not permit any person under 18 ... to join the active armed forces or the reserve bodies or formations".17 Its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child relating to the Optional Protocol was considered in October 2007. The Committee appreciated a number of Syria's legal commitments on child recruitment to date, but it urged Syria to enact legislation explicitly prohibiting the recruitment of children, whether by or against Syrian nationals.18

Syria worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross to train a number of military officials in international humanitarian law (IHL) as part of efforts to integrate IHL into theoretical and practical military training and civil society.19 The Committee on the Rights of the Child praised its progress in raising awareness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, it urged Syria to develop a systematic program to improve awareness and training on the Optional Protocols for all relevant professional groups.20

Having ratified the ILO Convention No. 182 on child labour in 2003, Syria amended some legislation accordingly, but loopholes remained and penalties were minimal.21

Syria remained formally at war with Israel, which maintained its occupation of the Golan Heights.

* Titles of non-English language sources have been translated by the Coalition.

1 Initial Report by Syria to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/SYR/1, 18 April 2007.

2 "Military services in Syria reduced to two years", Arabic News, 7 January 2005,

3 "President Assad Publishes Decree Number 30", al-Baath, no.13136, 6 May 2007 (Arabic). This included payment of an exemption fee of between US$500 and US$8,000 for Syrians living abroad;

4 Confidential sources, August 2007.

5 Ismail al-Jarradat, "Interview with Syrian Head of Recruitment, General Muhammad Ali Qamtad", al-Thawra, 9 May 2007 (Arabic).

6 Initial Report, above note 1.

7 Confidential sources, 15 July 2007.

8 Initial Report, above note 1.

9!, "Syria – Military Training",

10 Confidential sources, above note 7.

11 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Syria, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPSC/SYR/CO/1, 31 October 2006.

12 "Syria threatened to fight in Lebanon war – Hezbollah", Reuters, 23 July 2007; Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Iranian and Syrian support for Hizbullah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations", 18 March 2007,

13 Hamas's political leader, Khaled Mashal, and PIJ's secretary-general, Dr Ramadan al-Shallah. See Amira Howaidy, "Constants reiterated," Al-Ahram Weekly, 31 January 2008,

14 Matthew Levitt, "Terror from Damascus (Part I): The Palestinian terrorist presence in Syria", PeaceWatch #420, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7 May 2003.

15 Brookings Institute – University of Bern, "Iraqi refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: a field-based snapshot", occasional paper, June 2007,

16 Confidential sources, August 2007.

17 Declaration on accession to the Optional Protocol,

18 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Syria, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/SYR/CO/1, 5 October 2007.

19 International Committee for the Red Cross, Annual Reports 2004-6,

20 Concluding observations, above note 18.

21 IRIN News, "Syria: Child labourers operate in legal loophole, say rights workers", 13 July 2006.

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