18-year-old Kurdish girl abducted for military conscription, family says
Only a day after her 18th birthday, Fidaa Abdul Jalil went missing on April 6 as she was returning from her English class in Kobani, a Kurdish-majority city in northern Syria.
Fidaa’s family has been searching for her for weeks, going door-to-door inquiring about her whereabouts from neighbors and relatives, and even checking hospitals, yet they have found no trace of her.
“The police contacted my family after two days and said, ‘She is safe. Don’t be afraid and don’t search for her. We have chosen her to be with us in SDF,’” Lina Abdul Jalil, Fidaa’s older sister, said over WhatsApp.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led coalition backed by the United States, has played a significant role in defeating ISIS and fighting for self-governance in northeast Syria. However, they have been criticized for many human rights violations, including forced conscription and enforced disappearances, especially targeting children.
In March 2018, a 37-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria documented instances of human rights abuses by the SDF, such as the forced conscription of children as young as 13 years old.
“Families have opted to move away from areas held by the Syrian Democratic Forces to avoid reprisals, including arrest, for refusing conscription,” the report said.
Around a week after Fidaa’s disappearance, her parents were visited by two armed men and a woman in Kurdish military uniforms who were carrying their daughter’s personal belongings.
“They gave my sister’s phone and clothes to my mom. They were referring to her by a name other than her own. When my mom asked why, they told her that we don’t want anyone with us to remember their past,” Lina said.
In July 2019, SDF signed an action plan with the United Nations to prevent and end the recruitment of children under the age of 18. However, reports of forced recruitments and disappearances are still prevalent.
According to Fidaa’s sister, the Asayish (Kurdish Internal Security Forces) told the family that Fidaa had been under surveillance for a year, and now she would be trained for military service.
“They kidnapped her on the day after her 18th birthday so we wouldn’t be able to take her away from them. They also threatened my family that if they told anyone in the media, they would take my 9-year-old sister and 21-year-old brother as well,” Lina said.
In December 2022, Lam’en Mahmoud Othman and Ibrahim Jneid al-Faraj, both under the age of 18, were abducted by SDF’s Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah group (Revolutionary Youth) and taken to an SDF recruitment center for forced military conscription, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR).
In March, a 13-year-old girl named Jelan al-Sheikh Souf was also taken from Manbej city and taken to a recruitment center. Earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl named Nourhan Mustafa al-Batran was taken in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo for the same purposes.
She wanted to become a surgeon and master playing the guitar.
Nearly three weeks after her sister’s disappearance, Lina has turned to social media to campaign for her release. At the same time, she is increasingly concerned about the safety of her brother.
“They need [my brother] more than Fidaa because he was studying electrical engineering and speaks Arabic and Kurdish very well. Fidaa didn’t know Kurdish very well,” said Lina, adding that her brother has received threats warning him to be cautious.
Lina firmly rejected suggestions that her sister may have fled home or joined SDF of her own volition. She added that Fidaa was, in fact, taking English classes in preparation for traveling to the UK to visit her fiancé.
“She was very excited to leave Syria and Kobani and go to Britain. A day before she was kidnapped, she went and bought two gold rings for herself and her fiancé because she was going to travel after Ramadan. She wanted to become a surgeon and master playing the guitar,” Lina said.
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