Recruitment by Turkey of underage mercenaries and child soldiers

Recruitment by Turkey of underage mercenaries and child soldiers

In 2016, the Republic of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) published a comic book in which children were taught the importance of dying as martyrs for Turkey (‘how good it is to be a martyr’ and ‘to obtain the right to go to paradise’).

In 2018, Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) organisations that collaborated with the Turkish government in Germany and the Austrian Turkish Islamic Union (ATIB) organised theatrical performances in which child soldiers died for Islamic Turkey. In the same year, the Turkish president appeared with a 6-year-old girl in a military uniform, who was ‘comforted’ that she would be honoured if she were ‘martyred’ for Turkey and ‘if that happens, she will be covered with the Turkish flag’.

In May 2020, a study by the organisation ‘Syrians for Truth and Justice’ was published, which states that some of the Syrian mercenaries hired by Turkey are minors.

On 17 July 2020, Greek Member of the European Parliament Emmanouil Fragkos of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group raised a parliamentary question asking the European Commission to answer “will it further investigate the above allegations that Turkey is recruiting underage mercenaries and child soldiers?’ and “will it raise the issue of the protection of human – and especially children’s – lives and rights in Turkey?”

These questions were responded to by Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, responsible for neighbourhood and enlargement, on behalf of the European Commission. In his response, he said, “as the Commission highlighted in its 2019 annual report on Turkey, serious concerns remain when it comes to the rights of the child including challenges such as child poverty, child labour, ill-treatment of children and child marriage”.

Commissioner Varhelyi stated that the Commission has “repeatedly stressed that all allegations of child abuse need to be investigated swiftly, effectively and impartially and will continue to closely monitor the developments with the highest level of scrutiny and will reflect its assessment in its upcoming annual report on Turkey, to be published in autumn 2020”.

He stressed that “the expectations of the EU in the field of human rights, rule of law, democracy and fundamental freedoms are clear. These are core principles, which Turkey is called on to respect as a candidate country and as a long-standing member of the Council of Europe”.

Commissioner Varhelyi highlighted that “Turkey has ratified the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and has therefore committed to protect children from all forms of violence. Article 22 UNCRC stipulates the obligation to protect children seeking refugee status and Article 38 UNCRC calls on parties to ensure that underage persons do not actively take part in any form of hostilities”. In closing, the Commissioner concluded that “in the 2015 EU Guidelines on children in armed conflict, the (EU) ‘considers it of critical importance to address the issue of children and armed conflict’ and plans to raise greater awareness on this issue within the EU and towards third countries”.

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