Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 65,546,000
    – under-18s: 22,918,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 609,700
    – reserves: 220,200
    – paramilitary: 182,200
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 191936
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 19
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: none indicated in government armed forces; indicated in armed groups – some 3,000 in the PKK in 1998
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 8 September 2000; supports "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC; ILO 138
  • There are no indications of under-18s in government armed forces. The opposition PKK is known to recruit and deploy children under 18 years of age. In 1998, 3,000 children were said to be part of the PKK forces. There are reports of forced recruitment in Western Europe and Armenia.


There has been armed conflict in the south-east of Turkey between regular forces and armed groups operating under the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since 1984. The conflict increased in intensity after 1989 but began to taper off after the June 1999 arrest and trial of PKK leader Abdullah Oçalan, and his order for PKK forces to cease fighting and withdraw from Turkey.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 72 of the 1982 Constitution states that "[N]ational service is the right and duty of every Turk. The manner in which this service shall be performed, or considered as performed, either in the Armed Forces or in the public service shall be regulated by law".1937 The Law on Military Service (Law No. 1111) and the Law for Reserve Officers and Reserve Military Servants (Law No. 1076) regulate this service. Article 1 of the Law on Military Service specifies that all males who are citizens of the Turkish Republic must receive armed military training, irrespective of their age. According to Article 2 of the Law on Military Service, recruitment starts on the first day of January of the year in which a male reaches the age of 20 (i.e. when the candidate is 19); the same minimum age is applied for voluntary recruitment.1938

In June 1999, the Office of the Chief of the General Staff declared that the mixed compulsory-professional military system must continue with emphasis on compulsory recruitment.1939 Postponements of and exemptions from military service are possible under the law for Turks residing in Turkey and those living abroad on payment of a fixed amount of money and performance of a two-month service in Turkey.1940

Military Training and Military Schools

There are several military schools in Turkey which include military high schools, colleges or military war academies. Students can apply for admission to a military school after completing their 8th year of compulsory education, i.e. once they are 15. However, they are not members of the armed forces but only prospective candidates.1941

There are three military colleges: the Turkish Army College, the Turkish Air Force College and the Turkish Naval College. Applicants can enter the Army College in Ankara after an orientation training for two weeks in Ankara and then for six weeks in a military training camp area located in Mentes, Izmir. Those who then want to leave can do so.1942 The application of a person under the age of 18 must be supported by a petition from his legal guardian. This will allow the cadet to be admitted to the military academy, and legally attain title of being 'honourable member of the Turkish Armed Forces'. However military law does not apply until he turns eighteen.1943 The Air Force College is located in Istanbul.1944 Applicants must be below the age of 19 years (20 years if they graduated from a 7 or 8 years school). Those who are legally minor need to have one of their parents declaring themselves as the person responsible to the school administration. No minimum age is indicated. It is not clear from publicly available information if these cadets are members of the armed forces. The Naval Academy is located in Tuzla, 40 km from downtown Istanbul.1945 The upper age for entering this academy is 19 years (20 years for those who have a language preparatory education). No minimum age is indicated. Cadets seem to be members of the armed forces since they are subject to the existing Turkish military laws and related regulations.

According to the authorities, however, students who join these military schools before reaching the age of 18 are only prospective candidates and have academic training in these schools: "This should not be interpreted as recruitment of underage children," according to a communication from the government.1946


Child Recruitment and Deployment

  • Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK): 5,000-10,000 plus 50,000 militia1948

The PKK is based in Turkey but has camps in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and in the district of Makhmur in the Kurdish area of Iraq. Smaller camps are still operational in very mountainous terrain close to the Turkish and Iranian borders.1949

The PKK issued a military service law in 1990, by which every Kurdish youth aged 18 to 25 without exception was obliged to join the PKK army. But it seems that the organisation managed to recruit enough volunteers to stop compulsory recruitment. However, from 1994, it appears that the PKK started to systematically recruit more and more children and even created children's regiments. It was claimed, for example, that a children's battalion named Tabura Zaroken Sehit Agit was composed of three divisions and was, in theory at least, run by a committee of five children aged between 8 and 12 years. Both boys and girls are recruited by the PKK.1950 In 1998, it was reported that the PKK had 3,000 children within its ranks, more than 10 per cent of whom were girls. The youngest child witnessed with the PKK was 7 years old.1951

The PKK was reported to have lost as many as 1,000 guerrillas during a battle with the Kurdish Democratic Party in 1995. Many boys and girls were among the victims, according to KDP sources.1952 In 1997, a 14-year-old girl was one of several female guerrillas taken prisoner by the Turkish army during an offensive in Turkey's Cudi mountains. She had joined the PKK the previous year and had received political and military training at a PKK camp in northern Iraq. She was a Syrian national.1953

Some disturbing reports have been released on recruitment practices of the PKK in Western Europe. During the summer of 1998, Rädda Barnen learnt of PKK recruitment drives in Swedish schools. Seventeen minors were invited to attend a 'summer camp' in July in northern Sweden before being recruited to serve the PKK in south-east Turkey. By mid-August 1998, only three of them had returned. Many families have reported their children missing to the police.1954

A French magazine reported recently on the activities of the PKK in Kurdish communities living in France (about 100,000 people). The French police estimate the number of active PKK members at 300. In addition to taxes imposed on their incomes, some Kurdish families have to support the struggle by giving up their own children. Up to now, no family has formally complained to the police, instead preferring to claim that their child has run away. The PKK uses 'cultural associations' in order to indoctrinate these children, most during 15 days in a camp in the Larzac (South of France). The oldest have to follow the 'big training period' which takes place outside the child's country. There, youths receive paramilitary training and the toughest go to the frontline after a final training at the Iranian border.1955

In Germany, the Police of Bielefeld have inquired into the activities of the PKK in Ostwestfalen-Lippe. In addition to other activities such as racketeering and drug smuggling, the PKK has also forced children, teenagers and youths to join 'political courses' for a few days. Sometimes these course have taken place abroad, notably in Belgium and in the Netherlands. It seems that this usually happened with the consent of parents. One girl who had been kidnapped was returned by the police after enquiries among members of the PKK. Two other children are still missing and one other child is believed to be missing. All these children are below the age of 14 years. Reports have been received from other cities in Germany.1956 On a number of occasions, the German NGO, the Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV), has denounced the abduction of children by the PKK in Germany. In Celle, for example, it was reported that Kurdish parents of children who have died in hostilities or who are still fighting have been honoured during a PKK celebration in March 1998.1957 On 22 November 1998, the criminal police of Hanover reported that three more children had been trained for guerrilla in camps in the Netherlands and Belgium.1958

The GfbV also reported that thousands of parents in many Western countries are mourning their children who have died in combat or whose children have been abducted. It said that messages encouraging the recruitment of children have been released on MED-TV, the PKK's satellite television.1959 In Cologne, the German Coalition has been informed of a case of a 16-year-old Kurdish girl who is still missing since March 1999 after having joined a cultural meeting in a Kurdish centre.

According to the Turkish authorities, similar abductions have also occurred in Armenia, including three children who were abducted in Yerevan.1960

  • Turkish Hizbullah

Turkish Hizbullah is an Islamist armed group (not related to Lebanese Hizbullah), which operates in southeast Turkey. Hizbullah was founded in the 1980s at the height of an armed separatist Kurdish rebellion waged by the PKK. There is no evidence of the use of child soldiers by the Turkish Hizbullah.


International Standards

Turkey signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 8 September 2000 and supports a "straight-18" position.

1936 Brett and McCallin, op. cit.

1937 Blaustein and Flanz, op. cit.

1938 Communication of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, to CSC, 25/11/99; information provided by UNICEF.

1939 "Turkey: General staff explains need for conscription", BBC Monitoring Service, 13/6/99.

1940 Dietzeker, J. "Geld von Dienstverweigerern für den Wiederaufbau", Sonntagszeitung, 19/9/99.

1941 Information supplied by UNICEF.


1943 Ibid.



1946 Permanent Mission of Turkey, 25/11/99, op. cit.

1947 The Turkish authorities declared, on a number of occasions during the European Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, and afterwards in a communication sent to CSC on 25/11/99 (op. cit), that it would have been better to call the PKK a terrorist organisation instead of an armed opposition group, since it has been so qualified by different Western countries. Furthermore, they consider that there is no armed conflict in Turkey but rather "acts of terror" carried out by the PKK.

1948 Waxman, D., op. cit.

1949 van Bruinessen, M., Turkey, Europe and the Kurds after the capture of Abdullah, Utrecht, 4/99.

1950 Ismet, I. G., op. cit.

1951 RB, Children of War, No. 3, Stockholm, 1998.

1952 RB, Children of War, No. 2, Stockholm, 1996.

1953 Couturier, C., "Kurdish rebels send teenagers to war: Turkish soldiers say they are gaining the initiative in the war on the south", Financial Times, 28/6/97.

1954 Ibid.

1955 Leclerc, J. M., "La diaspora kurde sous la loi du racket", Valeurs Actuelles, 27/2/99.

1956 Kubera, T. "Die kurdische Arbeiterpartei PKK: ein Bericht über Ermittlungen des polizeilichen Staatsschutzes gegen die PKK in Oswestfalen-Lippe", Kriminalistik, 1/99.

1957 "GfbV appelliert an Bundesregierung: Sorgen Sie für die Rückkehr der von der PKK in Deutschland entführten kurdischen Minderjährigen in ihren Familien!", GfbV, 23/11/98.

1958 Ibid.

1959 Ibid.

1960 Statement of the Turkish delegation to the European Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Berlin, 18/10/99.


This 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.