Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Syria

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Syria, 2004, available at: [accessed 17 November 2017]
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.

Syrian Arab Republic

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 17.4 million (8.0 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 319,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: acceded 17 October 2003
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I, ILO 138, ILO 182

There were no reports that under-18s were used by government armed forces. Military education for under-18s was being phased out. Political armed groups were not reported to have recruited children but available information was limited.


Syria was formally at war with Israel, which occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, although fighting between Israeli and Syrian forces took place mostly on Lebanese territory until the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. Syria continued to maintain around 18,000 troops in Lebanon, and backed Hizbollah and some secular Palestinian groups in their conflict with Israel. In July 2003, troops were redeployed back to Syria, the fourth such redeployment in three years.1

Syria continued operating under the state of emergency declared in 1963, which severely curtailed human rights and freedoms. Although the government under President Bashar al-Assad increasingly engaged with the international community and promoted political and economic reforms, continuing large-scale political imprisonment and other human rights violations, including the repression of Kurdish opposition in the north in early 2004, marred progress in other fields, including child rights.


National recruitment legislation and practice

Conscription is compulsory for all Syrian males under the Constitution (Article 40).2 Under the Service of the Flag Law, Decree no. 115 of 5 October 1953, the minimum age for conscription is the "first day of January in the year in which a Syrian citizen reaches 19".3 Men must register for the draft at the age of 18. Military service is for 30 months and reserve duty is obligatory up to the age of 45.

Exemptions are available, including for students and only sons, or for reasons of health.4

Voluntary recruitment is open to men and women over 18.

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".5

There were no reported instances of under-18s serving in the armed forces or other state security organizations.

Military training and military schools

For 30 years Ba'athist military education, including civil defence training, was compulsory in state schools. On 17 March 2003 the Ba'ath party formally resolved to replace military education with extra-curricular activities such as computer training and summer camps for older children (Resolution 381/31). It was unclear whether military training for minors would continue at summer camps. In April 2003 military-style khaki school uniforms were replaced with pink and blue uniforms. On 1 October 2003 the Ministry of Education ordered the cancellation of all military education (Circular 2997/543), and the Office of Military Education was replaced with an Office of Sport.6

Training schools for conscripts include three officer schools – the Military Academy at Homs, the Naval Academy at Latakia, and the Air Force Academy near Aleppo – and an institution for reserve officers in Aleppo.7

Armed political groups

Syria hosts members of armed opposition groups from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Iraq and other countries, but keeps a tight rein on their activities. Only the Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have a sizeable popular constituency in Syria, in ten official and three unofficial refugee camps housing over 130,000 people.8 Some of them, including Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, are reported to run training camps in Syria.9 It was not possible to ascertain whether under-18s were involved.

Other developments

In December 2003 Syria held a workshop jointly with Jordan and Lebanon on the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on Syria's report to the Committee of October 2002.10 It also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The government highlighted its position on child soldiers in the official newspaper, al-Thawra, in August 2003.11 At the international level, it spoke out in support of the wider implementation of child rights legislation, including the Optional Protocols.

1 Al-Jazeera, "Syria redeploys troops in Lebanon", 16 July 2003,;,

2 Constitution, a.html.

3 Information from Syrian Ambassador to the UN, 17 March 2004.

4 Information from Syrian Coalition member, 29 January 2004.

5 Declaration by Syria on accession to the Optional Protocol,

6 Information from Syrian Coalition member, 9 February 2004; information from Syrian Ambassador to the UN, op. cit.; AP, "Syria cancels military education for elementary and high schools", 22 May 2003.

7 Syria Military Training, http://www.exploitz. com/Syria-Military-Training-cg.php.

8 UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA),

9 BBC News online, "Israel hits Palestinian 'Camp' in Syria", 5 October 2003,

10 Tomader Fateh, "Workshop on the implementation of Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child", Syria Times, 23 December 2003.

11 Maisa'a Al- Jurdi, "The Optional Protocol of CRC is a giant step to achieve further protection for the Children of the World", al-Thawra, 20 August 2003.

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